House Democratic leaders warned Wednesday that it will be up to Republicans to pass the rule governing the debt ceiling increase, pushing the burden onto Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to rally enough Republican support on the procedural measure allowing a final vote on legislation to prevent a default.
“In regards to the rule, it’s very simple: The majority is responsible for passing the rule,” Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), the Democratic whip, told reporters in the Capitol just hours before the rule vote is scheduled.
The rule has emerged as a potential pitfall in the race to pass the bipartisan debt ceiling package — negotiated between McCarthy and President Biden — before June 5 and avoid the first-ever government default.
As a tradition, the minority party in the House has virtually always voted against the rules that establish the parameters of debate surrounding floor votes on bills, even if the minority party supports the underlying legislation.
That convention could prove to be a headache for McCarthy, as a number of conservative opponents of the debt ceiling package are also weighing whether to vote also against the rule, which could prove — at least temporarily — to be the more effective strategy for blocking the bill.
With a razor-thin House majority, McCarthy has little room for error: He can lose only five Republicans and still pass the rule if Democrats hold their line in opposition, as they’re vowing to do.
“As Katherine has indicated, the majority is responsible for ensuring the passage of the rule,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday as he stood beside Clark.
Still, Jeffries and his leadership team are also hailing the debt ceiling bill as a victory for Biden and the Democrats in the face of “hostage-taking” demands from Republicans for steep spending cuts. And they’re vowing not to allow the country to default.
“We will not allow a default to happen,” Jeffries said.
That remark raises the possibility that Democrats would withhold their votes on the rule initially, to highlight what could be a potentially embarrassing moment for McCarthy if the rule fails, and then switch their votes to help pass the rule for the sake of preventing an economy-rattling default.
The rule vote is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, with the vote on final passage scheduled for roughly 8:30 p.m. Those times could be pushed if McCarthy struggles to pass the rule in the first round.
Passage of the final bill appears to be more certain, as lawmakers in both parties were lining up in support of the measure, despite the vowed opposition from far-left Democrats and hard-line conservatives.
Jeffries, who had warned that tougher work requirements for safety net programs were a “nonstarter” in any final deal, switched positions Wednesday to announce his support for the package, noting that the legislation also eases work requirements for certain other populations, effectively expanding eligibility for food stamps and other government programs.
It’s unclear how many Democrats will be needed to help the majority Republicans move the package through the House.
“We haven’t gotten the precise number from the other side of the aisle yet,” Jeffries said.
But he’s vowing to provide at least 70 Democrats — and the number will likely be much higher, since Democrats are under heightened pressure to demonstrate support for Biden, whose approval rating is below 40 percent amid his run to keep the White House in next year’s elections.
Still, Jeffries suggested Democrats would withhold that support until McCarthy can secure two-thirds of his conference — or 148 votes — at which time Democrats will send the bill over the finish line.
“We continue to maintain that House Republicans need to keep their commitment to produce 150 votes for the resolution that they themselves negotiated,” Jeffries said. “And when that happens, Democrats are going to make sure that there is no default.”