A split US House of Representatives has successfully passed a bill to provisionally suspend the country's $31.4 trillion debt ceiling. The decisive Wednesday vote revealed a majority backing from both Democrats and Republicans, strong enough to overshadow the objection led by hardline conservatives, thus averting a potential catastrophic fiscal default.
With 314 votes in favor against 117, the Republican-led House gave the go-ahead for the bill to proceed to the Senate. The bill must be approved and placed before President Joe Biden by Monday, the deadline when the federal government may exhaust funds required to settle its debts.
"The American people and the American economy will benefit from this agreement," said President Biden after the vote. He urged the Senate for swift action to facilitate his signing the bill into law.
The bill emerged as a compromise between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Despite facing opposition from 71 staunch Republicans, which would typically be enough to obstruct partisan legislation, a strong Democratic backing, outnumbering the Republicans who voted in favor, ensured the bill's passage.
The proposed legislation provides a temporary reprieve to the federal government's borrowing limit until January 1, 2025. This gives President Biden and Congress an opportunity to defer this politically sensitive issue until after the upcoming November 2024 presidential elections.
The bill also proposes a cap on some governmental expenditures over the next couple of years. It expedites the permit process for select energy projects, retrieves unutilized COVID-19 funds, and extends work requirements for certain food assistance programs.
House Freedom Caucus's Chip Roy, a leading hardline Republican, commented, "At best, we're looking at a two-year spending freeze that's filled with loopholes and tricks."
The legislation is expected to garner $1.5 trillion in savings over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This is significantly less than the $4.8 trillion in savings targeted by Republicans and less than the $3 trillion deficit reduction proposed by Biden through new taxes.
The Senate now assumes responsibility for the legislation. However, an anticipated delay in amendment votes could potentially throw a wrench in the works. Even so, the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders have voiced their commitment to enact the legislation prior to the weekend.
The bill's successful passage sees both gains and losses on both sides. While Republicans celebrate the redirection of some funds from the Internal Revenue Service, President Biden also sees benefits as his major infrastructure and green-energy laws remain largely untouched.
The legislative success comes amid warnings by rating agencies about a potential downgrade of U.S. debt, raising concerns over the stability of the global financial system.