Biden and McCarthy strike U.S. debt ceiling deal

On the cusp of the weekend, the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden, and Kevin McCarthy, a leading Congressional Republican, brokered an agreement in principle to suspend the towering $31.4 trillion federal government debt ceiling.

This critical breakthrough comes after a period of prolonged deadlock, marking a significant step towards averting a potential fiscal crisis.

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This accord, however, was unveiled against a backdrop of pervasive bitterness reflecting the acrimonious nature of the negotiations and the subsequent challenges that lay ahead for its passage through Congress before the U.S. government exhausts its resources to service its debt in early June.

Key terms of the deal

“Biden’s phone conversation with McCarthy was what finally catalyzed this agreement,” McCarthy wrote on Twitter, adding that while not perfect, the deal is fitting for the American public.

Echoing his sentiment, Biden acknowledged that compromises were inherent to governance, and thus not everyone could get their way.

The terms of this agreement propose to suspend the debt ceiling until January 2025. Notably, the arrangement would curtail spending for the 2024 and 2025 fiscal budgets, reclaim unutilized COVID funds, accelerate the approval process for select energy projects, and impose additional prerequisites for food aid programs catering to less affluent Americans.

Following a spate of drawn-out negotiations, the arrangement materialized amid a rapid series of phone calls. The culmination of these discussions was a 90-minute conversation between Biden and McCarthy on Saturday evening.

There’s more groundwork to be laid, as McCarthy cautioned. He projected the completion of the bill’s writing by Sunday, followed by a discussion with Biden and, subsequently, a vote on the agreement by Wednesday.

A fine balancing act is now incumbent on Biden and McCarthy as they navigate this bipartisan agreement through a precariously divided Congress. With the Republican majority in the House and the Democratic majority in the Senate, bipartisan backing is critical for the deal’s passage before Biden can ratify it.

The negotiators consented to maintain non-defense discretionary spending at the 2023 level for one year, increasing it by 1% in 2025, as revealed by an inside source.

Facing the critics: Skepticism and expectations

McCarthy assured that the deal includes historic reductions in spending, influential reforms to facilitate poverty alleviation and workforce integration, and restrictions on government overreach. “Importantly, it refrains from introducing new taxes or government programs,” McCarthy affirmed.

The agreement’s ultimate goal is to stave off an economic upheaval triggered by a potential default. Nevertheless, this objective hinges on the deal’s successful passage through a narrowly split Congress before the Treasury Department depletes its funding to fulfill its commitments.

A warning to this effect was issued by the Treasury on Friday, signaling an impending crisis if the debt ceiling was not resolved by June 5.

The proposal sparked a flurry of criticism from House Republicans, who have been advocating for drastic spending reductions. Some, like Representative Bob Good, were outspoken about their opposition, citing the proposed $4 trillion debt increase as indefensible.

The task ahead is far from completed. The requirement for bipartisan agreement, coupled with the stipulation for a 72-hour review period before a floor vote, presents a formidable challenge to garner sufficient backing from moderate members to outweigh opposition from both extreme right Republicans and progressive Democrats.

The bill’s ultimate test will then be the Senate, where a minimum of nine Republican votes will be required for its success. Despite the agreement, numerous hurdles remain on the path to raising the debt ceiling.

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