May 31, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Jeffries, McCarthy offices say there was no deal to save debt ceiling bill

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include denials by McCarthy's and Jeffries' offices of any deal in exchange for Democratic support for the procedural vote.

Spokespeople for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) disputed four Democratic sources who told Axios the two leaders had cut a deal for Democrats to help advance the debt ceiling bill to a final vote.

Why it matters: The 52 Democratic votes on a measure to bring the debt ceiling bill to the floor were necessary for the bill's survival after 29 Republicans had voted against moving it forward Wednesday afternoon. The bill eventually was approved on a 314-117 vote.

What we’re hearing: Four Democratic lawmakers said they had been told of a deal, with two saying they believed it involved boosting federal funding for projects in Democrats’ districts — known as earmarks or “community project funding” — if Democrats voted to advance the bill.

What they're saying: McCarthy had told reporters after the initial afternoon vote that he had not cut a deal to ensure the Democratic votes. A spokesperson later told Axios that there was "absolutely no deal" — and that suggestions to the contrary by Democratic lawmakers were "not accurate."

  • Jeffries' office also denied there was a deal.
  • "There was no side deal. House Democrats simply did the right thing and made sure the procedural vote passed because failure was not an option," spokesperson Christie Stephenson told Axios.
  • Earlier, when reporters had asked Jeffries whether there had been a deal, the minority leader said: "House Democrats to the rescue to avoid a dangerous default and help House Republicans get legislation over the finish line that they negotiated themselves."

The context: The GOP resistance in the procedural "rules" vote was an unusual breach of norms — typically the majority party alone is considered responsible for putting a bill on the floor on those votes.

  • If Democrats hadn't stepped in, the push for a final vote to move toward avoiding a catastrophic default by the U.S. government would have ground to a halt.

The backdrop: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, previously had told Democrats that they would receive significantly reduced funding for community projects in their districts this year, according to Politico.

What we're watching: Any arrangement benefitting Democrats who helped the bill pass could further inflame far-right Republicans already incensed about the compromise bill that McCarthy cut with Biden.

  • They've accused the speaker of caving to most of Democrats’ demands and not cutting enough government spending.
  • Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), reacting to news that Democrats would try to squeeze McCarthy on earmarks, tweeted derisively: "Earmarks! Sell! Sell! Sell! #NoDeal[.]"
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