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Biden and McCarthy race to sell their debt ceiling deal to lawmakers before the government runs out of money

<i>Susan Walsh/AP/Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters</i><br/>
Susan Walsh/AP/Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

By Kevin Liptak, CNN

Wilmington, Delaware (CNN) — The White House and Republican leaders in Congress were mounting an intensive push Sunday to consolidate support around a tentative agreement to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, their urgent task made complicated by members of both parties voicing concerns over different provisions.

President Joe Biden heralded the deal in remarks from the White House Sunday evening, saying it “prevents the worst possible crisis – a default for the first time in our nation’s history.” But even with Speaker Kevin McCarthy releasing the legislative text of the bill Sunday evening, the marathon is far from over, and there remains little certainty the nation will avoid a default.

The “agreement in principle” clinched by House Republicans and the White House late Saturday was the culmination of mad-dash negotiations over the course of the past week that regularly stretched late into the night.

The agreement – which would raise the debt ceiling for two years, freeze spending on domestic programs, increase spending on defense and veterans issues, impose some new work requirements on federal food assistance programs and change some rules around energy permitting – was meant to include provisions that could sway members of both parties to vote for it.

Yet after the deal’s announcement, House members on both the left and right were already balking at some of the details said to be included in the package. And a handful of powerful Senate Republicans raised concerns about the deal, specifically about defense spending, in a Senate GOP call Sunday afternoon.

In a private call with House Democrats, Biden’s briefers on Sunday defended their deal-making with McCarthy, going into detail about what they prevented from being added to the bill, according to multiple sources.

“I think he negotiated with me in good faith. He kept his word,” Biden said of the California Republican, with whom he spoke on Sunday. “He did what he said he’d do, and I have no idea whether he has the votes. I expect he does or I don’t think he would’ve made the agreement.”

But Biden, too, is under pressure to deliver votes from Democrats, dozens of which will likely be necessary for the bill to secure passage.

Earlier Sunday, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal said White House negotiators and Democratic leaders should be concerned about securing progressive support for the deal.

“Yes, they have to worry,” the Washington Democrat told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union,” pointing to some of the concessions made by the White House to reach a deal, including the expansion of some work requirements for federal food aid.

Meanwhile, Republicans who had demanded larger spending cuts threatened to withhold their support. The House will return on Tuesday, a source familiar told CNN, giving leadership a chance to whip its members in person ahead of an expected Wednesday vote.

“No one claiming to be a conservative could justify a YES vote,” Virginia Rep. Bob Good, a member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, posted on Twitter.

“Hard pass. Hold the line,” wrote Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde, another member of the Freedom Caucus, which is expected to meet Monday.

But South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson, chair of the center-right Republican Main Street Caucus, told CNN on Sunday that GOP lawmakers would “overwhelmingly” support the deal, while suggesting that votes of some party hard-liners were never in play.

“Let’s be honest. Bob Good will not vote for this thing. And it doesn’t matter if Mother Teresa came back from the dead and called him. He’s not voting for it. He was never going to,” Johnson said.

For McCarthy, the upcoming battle to secure the votes of at least half of his party’s members – as he has promised – will be a defining moment for his hard-won young speakership.

Speaking to reporters in the Capitol on Sunday, McCarthy brushed aside concerns he won’t have enough Republican votes.

“This is a good strong bill that a majority of Republicans will vote for,” the California Republican said.

But his first real test will be Tuesday in the House Rules Committee, a panel that must adopt a rule to allow the bill to be approved by a majority of the House. To win the speakership in January, McCarthy agreed to name three conservative hardliners – Reps. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Chip Roy of Texas and Thomas Massie of Kentucky – to the committee, a major concession since usually the powerful panel is stacked with close allies of the leadership.

Norman and Roy have already emerged as sharp critics of the debt limit deal, while Massie has been quiet as he waits for the bill text to be released.

If all three voted against the rule in committee, that would kill the bill – unless any Democrats vote to advance the rule. Most rules are typically approved along party lines, but this one could be different.

Biden said Sunday that he believes critics will find that he did not concede much, and that while he does not support getting rid of the debt limit, he is open to the idea of invoking the 14th Amendment in the future to avoid a default.

The top Democrat in the House, New York’s Hakeem Jeffries, stopped short on Sunday of guaranteeing that a majority of Democrats would get behind the bill.

“I do expect that there will be Democratic support once we have the ability to actually be fully briefed by the White House, but I’m not going to predict what those numbers may ultimately look like,” he told CBS News. “We have to go through a process consistent with respecting every single member of the House of Representatives and their ability to fully understand the resolution that has been reached.”

Speaking late Saturday, McCarthy said text of the package would be finalized by Sunday, setting up a required 72-hour period for members of Congress to review the bill ahead of a vote.

In the Senate, any one member can slow down the process by as long as a week, adding another layer of uncertainty as Washington rushes to avoid default. During Sunday’s Senate GOP call, the top Republicans on the Appropriations and Armed Services Committees, Susan Collins of Maine and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, expressed concern that top-line spending number for defense, which reflects the president’s budget, is too low to keep up with the rate of inflation, a source on the call told CNN.

Last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen set June 5 as the date the government will run out of cash to pay its bills in full and on time. The US has never before defaulted, and economists predict the consequences would be catastrophic.

The agreement in principle reached by the White House and House Republicans will lift the debt limit for two years and roughly cap non-defense spending to current fiscal year levels for 2024 and 2025, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

As part of the deal, the White House has also appeared to have made concessions to House Republican negotiators on work requirements for people receiving food stamps.

Biden on Sunday said it’s a “ridiculous assertion” that compromises on work requirements would leave people hungry.

The agreement reached on Saturday phases in food stamp time limits on people up to age 54 that will then sunset in 2030, while also exempting veterans and people who are homeless from these limits. The current work requirement for the program, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, only applies to certain adults between the ages 18-49.

The agreement does not make any changes to Medicaid and prevented certain changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program called for by Republicans.

Still, many Democrats have warned that additional work requirements on social safety net programs are a nonstarter, and the White House lambasted the GOP position on the idea as “cruel and senseless” last week.

“I think it is really unfortunate that the president opened the door to this,” Jayapal said Sunday. “At the end of the day, you know, perhaps this will – because of the exemptions – perhaps it will be OK. I can’t commit to that, I really don’t know.”

This story has been updated with additional reaction.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Manu Raju, Melanie Zanona, Kristin Wilson, Lauren Fox, Sam Fossum and Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.

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