President Joe Biden and House speaker Kevin McCarthy must now sell their deal to lift the debt ceiling in exchange for spending reductions to wary lawmakers in the progressive and far right factions of the Democratic and Republican parties

Washington (AFP) - US President Joe Biden and Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said they were confident Sunday of pushing a debt crisis deal through Congress and avoiding a cataclysmic default, despite skepticism from some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The tentative agreement reached Saturday after weeks of intense talks offers a path back from the precipice, but getting it through both houses of Congress before the government starts running out of money will be a tough task.

Biden said he would speak to McCarthy at 3:00 pm (1900 GMT) “to make sure all the Ts are crossed and the Is are dotted.”

Asked if there were any sticking points, the president replied: “None.”

“I think we’re in good shape,” he told reporters.

The next step would be a legislative text that can be scrutinized by party members before a vote in the House of Representatives that McCarthy has scheduled for Wednesday.

But all the while the clock is still ticking down to the June 5 “X-date” when the Treasury estimates the cash to pay bills and debts will begin to run out.

A default would likely have catastrophic consequences, triggering a US recession and risking a global economic meltdown.

The basic framework of the deal suspends the federal debt ceiling, which is currently $31.4 trillion, for two years — enough to get past the next presidential election in 2024 and allow the government to keep borrowing money and remain solvent.

In return, the Republicans secured some limits on federal spending over the same period.

– Unhappy right, and left –

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (L) looks on as US President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting on the debt ceiling, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 22, 2023

Congressional opposition to the bill comes from an unlikely union of hard-right Republicans who wanted deeper spending cuts and progressive Democrats who wanted no reductions at all.

McCarthy’s wafer-thin majority in the House means passing the bill will require significant Democratic backing to balance out Republican dissent.

The speaker was out pushing the deal Sunday, arguing on the Fox network that the spending limits were a significant victory and insisting that 95 percent of House Republicans were “very excited.”

“Maybe it doesn’t do everything for everyone, but this is a step in the right direction no one thought we would be at today,” McCarthy said.

But the tone of the Republican opposition was set by Representative Dan Bishop – a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus – who tweeted a vomit emoji and slammed McCarthy for securing “almost zippo.”

– ‘Scorched Earth’ –

Nicholas Creel, a political analyst and business law professor at Georgia College and State University said the deal was “ultimately likely” to pass through Congress, but he warned that “Freedom Caucus Republicans have the potential to play spoiler if they decide to go scorched Earth on McCarthy.”

The tentative agreement represents a climb down of sorts by both sides.

Biden had initially refused to negotiate over spending issues as a condition for raising the debt ceiling, accusing the Republicans of taking the economy hostage.

And the big cuts that Republicans wanted are not there, although nondefense spending will remain effectively flat next year, and only rise nominally in 2025.

“Overall, the deal is probably best viewed as a win for Biden and Democrats given that it contains fairly modest spending cuts and would prevent another debt ceiling showdown or a government shutdown during the remainder of Biden’s presidency,” Creel said.

“Nobody has enough power to get too much of what they want right now, so a compromise like this that makes everyone a little unhappy is probably the best anyone could have hoped for,” he added.

– Speed of the essence –

The countdown to the June 5 “X-date” means the legislation will have to clear Congress much more quickly than the normal timetable for even the most uncontroversial bills.

McCarthy is hoping to bring the narrow House majority of 222 Republicans with him, but opposition will come from 35 far-right lawmakers who told him to “hold the line” for more sweeping spending cuts.

That means a large number of Democrats will have to be persuaded to vote with a reduced number of Republicans – something that rarely happens on big bills.

Pramila Jayapal, chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said the Democratic leadership should be concerned about securing their support.

“Yes, they have to worry,” she told CNN, adding she was “not happy” with what she was hearing about the concessions made by Biden.

If a default still occurs, the government would not miss loan repayments until mid-June but in the meantime it would likely have to halt $25 billion in social security checks and federal salaries.