McCarthy to hold a vote soon on plan to increase debt limit while cutting spending
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is trying to address a problem.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The House Republican majority faces pressure to extend U.S. borrowing authority. The U.S. needs that in order to meet its obligations and avoid default. Republicans have said they won't do it unless they also get future spending cuts. But spending cuts are unpopular, and they have yet to fully agree on any plan that they would pass. Senate Democrats plan to reject whatever they pass, saying the U.S. should just pay its bills.
INSKEEP: NPR politics reporter Ximena Bustillo is covering this story. Good morning.
XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: OK, so McCarthy needs 218 votes to pass anything. From his very small Republican majority, he needs to get almost all of them on his side. Where do things stand?
BUSTILLO: McCarthy is whipping for votes in the House currently, and he told reporters last night that he remains confident a vote could come as soon as this week. The bill would increase the country's borrowing limit by $1.5 trillion or through March of next year, whichever comes first. And it aims to erase much of President Biden's agenda, including his college loan forgiveness proposal and much of the Inflation Reduction Act, the major climate bill passed last year. But a group of House Republicans are pushing for changes on several provisions that deal with items like ethanol tax incentives and work requirements for safety net programs. Here he is giving an update on negotiations.
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KEVIN MCCARTHY: This bill is to get us to the negotiating table. It's not the final provisions, and there's a number of members that will vote for it going forward to say there are some concerns they have with it.
BUSTILLO: Several Midwestern lawmakers spent Tuesday in McCarthy's office negotiating provisions to keep biofuel tax credits and incentives. Since Democrats are all expected to vote no, McCarthy can really only spare a few GOP votes against the measure. And the White House yesterday also issued a statement that, should the bill pass, Biden is ready to veto it.
INSKEEP: Again, the Democratic position here, of course, is this is a hostage situation. The U.S. should just pay its existing bills and that the White House is not going to negotiate over paying the existing bills. McCarthy, though, is trying to shape something that cuts future spending in some way. What would happen to social safety net programs?
BUSTILLO: Well, let's look specifically at food stamps. McCarthy wants to raise the age limit of adults, 18 to 50, who do not have children and are considered, quote, "capable," from 50 to 56, effectively increasing the number of people who are subject to work requirements. Currently, they have to show that they are working 20 hours a week in order to get food stamps. And if they stop work or don't work enough hours for three months, they lose the benefits. But hunger advocates say that the change will push for more people off the program. Here's Ellen Vollinger, SNAP director for the Food Research and Action Center.
ELLEN VOLLINGER: It's a strategy that is only certain to take food away from people. It is not going to improve their employability or their prospects in the labor market.
BUSTILLO: Vollinger argues that often the food benefit is being given to a person because they are not able to make enough money on their own to sustain themselves.
INSKEEP: I guess we should just remember also that food stamps are not the largest part of the budget here; it's things like defense and Social Security, which are not going to be touched. What happens now?
BUSTILLO: Well, if McCarthy manages to get the bill through the chamber, it would increase pressure on Biden to start some talks on what a compromise could look like. But many of the current provisions, like food stamp work requirements, are a nonstarter for Democrats. Now even if the specific bill fails to get to Biden's desk, it does signal some of McCarthy's thinking when it comes to programs that could be negotiated in other packages coming later in the year.
INSKEEP: NPR's Ximena Bustillo. Thanks as always.
BUSTILLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.