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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

House passes compromise deal to raise debt limit, despite opposition from Northwest lawmakers in both parties

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters about the debt limit bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on May 30.  (KENNY HOLSTON/New York Times)

WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill to raise the nation’s borrowing limit and end the threat of economic disaster – which the House’s Republican majority used to extract concessions from Democrats to limit federal spending – despite Northwest lawmakers from both parties opposing the compromise.

The legislation, which passed by a vote of 314-117, raises the debt ceiling through the end of 2024, caps some kinds of future spending and rescinds unspent pandemic relief funds and part of the money Democrats approved last year to modernize the Internal Revenue Service. It also streamlines the permitting process for energy projects, ends the pause on student loan repayments and expands work requirements for some federal benefits.

The bill now goes to the Democratic-majority Senate, whose leaders aim to pass it before Monday, when the government would run out of money to pay all its bills without borrowing more. Both parties have contributed to the $31.4 trillion national debt, which has grown rapidly in recent years as Democrats and Republicans alike have chosen to borrow money to finance their priorities.

“This is the largest deficit reduction bill in the history of the United States,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, one of 149 Republicans who voted for the bill, said in a statement. “It will provide long overdue relief to families in Eastern Washington getting crushed under inflation by saving them $2.1 trillion and slashing Democrats’ out-of-control spending.”

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, echoed those ideas in a statement explaining why he voted for the bipartisan deal.

“America has a spending addiction,” he said. “For far too long, out-of-control inflationary spending has driven record-high inflation, forced small businesses to shut down, and is continuing to mortgage our children’s futures. The fiscal insanity must come to an end, and this legislation is a historic step in the right direction.”

Rep. Russ Fulcher, who represents North Idaho, was one of 71 GOP lawmakers who voted against the measure. While he credited House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., with securing “some Republican victories” in his negotiations with President Joe Biden, Fulcher said he couldn’t justify “the debt implications that the legislation poses to Idahoans and fellow Americans.”

“We should never have been in this situation,” Fulcher said in a statement, blaming Biden for initially refusing to negotiate with House Republicans after they passed a bill that would have sharply cut federal spending. “The bill would have mitigated the debt ceiling crisis while enacting historic spending reductions. Democrats controlling the Senate have refused to put it up for a vote.”

Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican who represents most of Boise and eastern Idaho, voted for the compromise bill and called it “a huge step moving the ball in the right direction.” In an interview before the vote, he said McCarthy and other GOP negotiators “did a fantastic job” to get concessions from Biden, who long insisted Congress should pass a “clean” bill to raise the debt limit without conditions attached.

“I don’t know if they expected that the White House would just accept that,” Simpson said of some Republicans insistence on supporting only their legislation, a GOP wish list that sought to slash spending and repeal much of Democrats’ recent legislative accomplishments. “Anybody that thought that would be the final bill was living in a dream world.”

The vote also split Democrats, with 165 in favor and 46 opposed. Rep. Suzan DelBene, who represents parts of King and Snohomish counties, said in an interview Wednesday morning she would vote for the bill despite opposing some of the concessions Republicans secured from the White House.

“I think that a default would be devastating to our country,” said DelBene, who leads House Democrats’ campaign arm. “I think it’s terrible that Republicans have put us in a position where they’re willing to hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage.”

Other Democrats refused to support the compromise bill, despite giving Biden’s negotiating team credit for taking many of the initial GOP demands off the table.

“It was Republicans who drove us to the brink of default,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat who represents most of Seattle and leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on CNN before the vote. “This bill will pass tonight. They don’t need progressive votes.”

In a statement after the vote, Jayapal said the bill “puts unnecessary hurdles between poor people, including older Americans, and nutrition assistance,” referring to a provision that raises the maximum age from 50 to 54 when someone must show they are working to receive benefits commonly called food stamps. She also lamented the loss of about a quarter of the $80 billion intended to help the IRS improve customer service for taxpayers and crack down on tax dodging by the wealthy and large corporations.

In interviews at the Capitol before the vote, Newhouse and Simpson, both members of the House Appropriations Committee, expressed different views on the process that produced the compromise. Simpson said he would like to see Congress return to a bygone practice of raising the debt ceiling whenever lawmakers passed a yearly budget resolution, dubbed the “Gephardt rule” after former Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.

“Now, I don’t know that Republicans would go back to the Gephardt rule, because we kind of like using it as a cudgel to get what we want, to some degree,” Simpson said, referring to the debt limit. “But I think it made sense, frankly.

“I think there’s a way to get Republicans and Democrats together – probably not the extremes, but a majority of Republicans and Democrats – to try to solve this. Because it’s not good for the markets, it’s not good for our economy.”

When Congress nearly failed to raise the debt ceiling amid a similar standoff in 2011, it sent the stock market reeling and prompted S&P Global Ratings to downgrade the United States’ credit rating.

Newhouse, on the other hand, downplayed the seriousness of the game of chicken that led to the compromise deal.

“This messiness that we’re seeing is just part of allowing a system to work – people to express their perspective – and you’re seeing that happen: They’re flexing their muscles,” he said. “I’m not ready to say that the system’s broken or anything. It’s not supposed to be a pretty process.”

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it will need some GOP support to reach the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster. In a brief interview at the Capitol before the House vote, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, declined to say how he planned to vote.

“I suspect there will be some amendment votes in the Senate,” he said, “and so I’m just waiting to see how everything plays out.”

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, decried “hostage-taking” by Republicans.

“Here’s the bottom line: We cannot – and we will not – default,” Murray said in a statement. “I’m still reviewing the legislation and discussing it with my colleagues, and I’ll have more to say when the bill reaches the Senate. But let’s just be really clear that we find ourselves in this moment for one reason, and that is House Republicans’ reckless brinksmanship.

“Throughout this process, extreme House Republicans have shown a reckless disregard for the American people and our economy – even openly talking about taking ‘hostages’ to try to extract partisan concessions – and I hope everyone sees that clearly. This sort of hostage-taking simply cannot be the norm.”

The Senate is expected to take up the bill Thursday. Even if it has enough support to pass, GOP senators who oppose the deal could delay its passage, pushing dangerously close to the Monday deadline.