Congress, U.S. President

U.S. House passes debt ceiling bill; Mooney votes no, Miller votes yes

MORGANTOWN – The U.S. House of Representatives passed the debt ceiling bill Wednesday evening and sent it across the Capitol to the Senate.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 suspends the debt ceiling for two years, imposes some spending limits and enables completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline that crosses West Virginia into Virginia (see details below).

The vote was 314-117, with 149 Republicans and 165 Democrats voting for it.

West Virginia’s two Republican representatives, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller, both announced their voting intentions early in the day.

Mooney said in a release, “I plan to vote against the so-called Fiscal Responsibility Act. This watered-down plan continues our country on the path of fiscal irresponsibility.”

It doesn’t remove the funds to add more than 80,000 new IRS agents, he said, breaking a GOP promise. “Government spending has grown 40% since the COVID pandemic began. COVID is over and emergency government spending levels should revert to pre-COVID levels.”

While the bill clears the path to complete the MVP, which he said he supports, it doesn’t include comprehensive permitting reform.

“The agreement suspends the debt ceiling until January 1, 2025, it is estimated to be at least $4 trillion, and allows potentially unlimited spending,” he said. “This bill continues the country on a path of ballooning debt and kicking the can down the road. … I made a promise that I would fight the fiscal irresponsibility of the Biden Administration and I am keeping my word.”

Miller said, “Speaker McCarthy, Congressman Graves, Congressman McHenry, and the whole negotiating team delivered a win for the American people. We’re cutting spending, reducing regulations, and not raising taxes while ensuring we prevent default.

“Since coming to Congress, I’ve worked tirelessly alongside my West Virginia colleagues to complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” she said. “Finally, Republicans and Democrats are coming together to finish the Mountain Valley Pipeline which will create more jobs, lower energy costs, and protect our environment. This bill is a bipartisan win for every American.”

She concluded, “I’ll be voting yes and encourage all of my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, to join me.”

House action Wednesday afternoon set the stage for the bill’s passage, when a measure setting the rules for debate passed 241-187. While most everyone expected the bill itself to pass, passing the rule was trickier, with 29 Republicans voting no and four Republicans not voting. Passage required 52 Democrats to cross the aisle and vote with the Republicans.

Traditionally the minority party votes against rules measures, various political sources explained, requiring majority unity to pass them. But the defection of far-right Republicans who favored the previous, tighter, Limit, Save, Grow Act, necessitated the Democratic support. After receiving leadership approval, Democrats came down the chamber well and manually changed their electronic “no” votes to “yes” votes.

The final tally for the rules measure was: Republicans, Yes, 189; No 29; not voting, 4. Mooney was among those not voting. Miller voted yes. For Democrats, Yes, 52; No, 158; not voting, 3.

The bill goes next to the Senate. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito on Wednesday announced her support.

“This is a good first step,” she said. “I congratulate Speaker McCarthy, having served with him for many years over in the House side, he has, I think, a tremendous read on his conference and he insisted that the president get to the negotiating table with him, as our leader did as well, to negotiate a package.”

On MVP, she said, “Lastly, the Mountain Valley Pipeline is exceedingly important to our region, the eastern seaboard of this country. It is 95% complete. I’ve had numerous conversations, as have many from our state and other states, with everybody saying how critically important the product of natural gas that is carried through this pipeline is to the energy security of this country. After many, many attempts in the court to shut the entire thing down, it’s time to bring it to a close and this agreement brings it to a close.”

What’s in the bill

As summarized from various news and political sources, the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 suspends the $31.4 trillion federal limit until Jan. 1. 2025. The next day it would increase automatically to the debt level at that point. Estimates vary but Goldman Sachs puts the 2025 level at more than $35 trillion. Goldman Sachs also estimates the bill will reduce discretionary spending by $1.5 trillion over 10 years and cut interest expenses by about $170 billion

Current Congressional Budget Office spending base lines for the current fiscal year and Fiscal Years 2024 and 2025 are $1.626 trillion, $1.7 trillion and $1.742 trillion respectively.

The bill sets base defense funding at $886 billion for FY 2024 and $895 billion for FY 2025. Non-defense funding would be capped at $704 billion for FY 2024 and $711 billion for FY 2025. Combined, it set base discretionary funding to $1.590 trillion and $1.606 trillion, respectively. So the bill would save $110 billion in the first year of the caps, and $136 billion in the second.

The previous House debt ceiling bill – The Limit, Save, Grow Act – would have rescinded $80 billion to add more than 80,000 IRS agents, reclaimed unspent COVID-19 funding, and enacted work requirements (80 hours per month) for federal aid programs for childless adults up to age 56, including Medicaid and SNAP, but does not include any changes to Social Security and Medicare. Current work requirements apply to people up to age 50.

This bill rescinds just $1.4 billion for now. In 2024 and 2025, it would redirect $10 billion each year from the IRS to other budgetary uses. It would reclaim about $30 billion already provided for COVID and redirect it.

It still contains expanded work requirements for SNAP: to age 54. But it also expands exemptions for veterans and the homeless.

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