WASHINGTON: Right-wing Republicans said on Tuesday they oppose a bipartisan deal to raise the $31.4 trillion U.S. debt ceiling ahead of its first test in Congress, setting up a nail-biting week before the United States potentially runs out of money to pay its bills.
The gatekeeper House of Representatives Rules Committee is due to consider the 99-page bill beginning at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) on Tuesday, ahead of votes in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Both Democratic President Joe Biden and the top Republican in Congress, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, have predicted they will get enough votes to pass it into law before June 5, when the U.S. Treasury Department says it will not have enough money to cover its obligations.
But one hardline member of the panel said he would vote against the bill, saying it does too little to cut spending.
"If the bill stays intact? Absolutely, I'll kill this bill any way I can," said Representative Ralph Norman, a member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus.
Norman is one of three conservatives on the 13-member panel who could potentially torpedo the bill before it even reaches the House floor. Though the panel is normally closely aligned with House leadership, McCarthy added the three members in January as a condition of winning the speaker's gavel.
Another, Representative Chip Roy, has called the bill a "turd sandwich."
The third, Representative Thomas Massie, hinted on Monday that he might support the package. "I think it's important to keep in mind the debt limit bill itself does not spend money," he wrote on Twitter. His office declined to comment further.
The four Democrats on the panel typically vote against Republican-backed legislation, but it is not clear whether they would oppose a deal that had been crafted by Biden.
At least one, Representative Mary Gay Scanlon, is a member of a moderate group that supports the deal. Her office did not respond to a request for comment.
McCarthy said on Monday he was not worried the Rules Committee would kill the bill.
A successful vote there would set up a vote by the full House on Wednesday evening.
A Senate vote could possibly stretch into the weekend if lawmakers in that chamber try to slow its passage. At least one, Republican Mike Lee, has said he may try to do so, and other Republicans have also expressed discomfort with some aspects of the deal.
The bill would suspend the U.S. debt limit through Jan. 1, 2025, allowing Biden and lawmakers to set aside the politically risky issue until after the November 2024 presidential election.
It would also cap some government spending over the next two years, speed up the permitting process for some energy projects, claw back unused COVID-19 funds, and introduce work requirements for food aid programs for some poor Americans.
In another win for Republicans, it would shift some funding away from the Internal Revenue Service, though the White House says that should not undercut tax enforcement.
Biden can point to gains as well: the deal leaves his signature infrastructure and green-energy laws largely intact, and the spending cuts and work requirements are far less than Republicans had pushed for.
Republicans have argued that steep spending cuts are necessary to curb the growth of the national debt, which at $31.4 trillion is roughly equal to the annual output of the economy.
Interest payments on that debt are projected to eat up a growing share of the budget as an aging population pushes up health and retirement costs, according to government forecasts.
The deal would not do anything to rein in those fast-growing programs.
Most of the savings would come by capping spending on domestic programs like housing, border control, scientific research and other forms of "discretionary" spending. Military spending would be allowed to increase over the next two years.
The debt-ceiling standoff prompted ratings agencies to warn they might downgrade U.S. debt, which underpins the global financial system. Markets have reacted positively to the agreement so far.