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House approves the debt ceiling measure as the default deadline looms

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

With overwhelming bipartisan support, the House of Representatives passed that bill last night.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

So the compromise negotiated by President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy moves ahead, putting the U.S. one step closer to avoiding a potentially disastrous debt default. The legislation now heads to the Senate. And if passed, it would defer the federal debt limit for two years.

FADEL: NPR congressional reporter Barbara Sprunt was there and joins us now. Good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So Barbara, it took weeks and weeks of what seemed like relentless negotiations to get to this bill. What did its passage look like last night?

SPRUNT: Well, the bill passed by an overwhelming margin with bipartisan support. The important numbers to focus on are actually about the party breakdown. There had been this question going into the vote about whether Democrats would supply just enough votes for it to pass and avoid a default, or if they'd want to bring a large show of force in support of President Biden. So that margin was always a question. In the end, more Democrats actually voted for the bill than Republicans. Now, very conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats had lots of complaints about this bill, saying it either didn't go far enough on spending cuts or it went too far. All that was expected. That's the nature of a compromise bill.

FADEL: So what does this vote say about McCarthy as speaker?

SPRUNT: Well, you know, I've been talking to members in his conference throughout this process and many really praise him for, in their view, really driving the negotiations with the White House and sort of forcing President Biden to negotiate on things that he initially said he wouldn't, like spending caps and expanding work requirements for federal safety net programs like food stamps, for example. There was speculation, you know, given the amount of time that it took him to become speaker back in January - everyone remembers those epic days of voting, one after another. You know, there was a sense, there was some speculation that, like, maybe his hold on his conference is a little more tenuous. But he's emerging, you know, having just negotiated a pretty significant compromise deal. And, you know, McCarthy himself was pretty elated about that last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: This is one of the best nights I've ever been here. I thought it would be hard. I thought it'd be almost impossible just to get to 218.

SPRUNT: He's talking about the number of votes needed for passage there. You know, he told reporters he doesn't think it's a big deal that more Democrats backed this bill than Republicans. He said he promised two-thirds of his conference would support it. He delivered on that. But some Freedom Caucus members who didn't vote for the deal have expressed concerns that this ended up being more of a win for Democrats than Republicans. So this could fuel some more unrest among conservative Republicans who were against this deal to begin with. Now, there have been questions, you know, in light of that about whether there could be a motion to vacate, which is essentially a member calling for a snap vote to oust McCarthy. But McCarthy was asked about this last night directly. He said he's not worried about losing his gavel at all.

FADEL: OK, so now it goes to the Senate. Is it a foregone conclusion that this deal will pass before Monday, which is when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen predicts the U.S. will no longer be able to pay its bills?

SPRUNT: Well, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate side are working to see if they can reach an agreement to speed up the process and get this moving as early as today. Now, of course, the Senate won't be without its own drama on this, of course. Yesterday we saw Utah Republican Mike Lee and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders on the Senate floor sort of blasting the legislation, pledging to vote against it. But as you said, that deadline is real. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said senators will stay over the weekend if they have to in order to vote in time.

FADEL: That's NPR congressional reporter Barbara Sprunt. Thank you, Barbara.

SPRUNT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.