Political winners and losers from the debt ceiling drama 
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Congress has sent legislation to raise the debt ceiling to President Biden, ending a months-long saga that brought the U.S. days away from a possible default. 

The legislation was the product of months of gamesmanship between Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), culminated by furious negotiations and an aggressive effort by leaders in both parties to sell the agreement to their caucuses — which included a number of reluctant lawmakers. 

Here are some of the biggest winners and losers from the fight.  


Speaker Kevin McCarthy 

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

There is little question that McCarthy has emerged as the biggest winner of the fight — even if he has also had to take some criticism from his right flank.  

McCarthy pushed a major bipartisan deal through Congress and proved wrong his critics who doubted his ability to get a GOP-backed bill raising the debt ceiling through the House.  

That early victory gave the Speaker leverage in the subsequent talks, and it was the first big sign that the White House and Democrats had underestimated McCarthy after his rocky election as Speaker.  

McCarthy won big Wednesday when 149 members, more than two-thirds of his conference, backed the bill — a show of support for their leader and a bit of a rebuke of the conservatives who had criticized him.  

He’ll face challenges going forward, but this was a big political victory in McCarthy’s young Speakership.  

Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.) and Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) 

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) hugs Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.)

Graves and McHenry, the Republicans appointed by McCarthy to hash out the debt deal, saw their star power grow throughout negotiations with the White House.  

It was the second time this year that McCarthy called on the duo to assist him after the pair helped his climb to the Speakership in January. 

After several fruitless meetings with Biden, McCarthy tapped Graves and McHenry — a “policy wonk” and the chair of the Financial Services Committee — to represent Republicans in negotiations with the White House.  

The two delivered, breaking the political logjam and agreeing to a deal that won a big majority in the House and in the GOP conference.  

In the process, Graves’s and McHenry’s work will foster talk about their own political futures, including whether either could be a House GOP leader or Speaker.  

President Biden 

President Biden

Biden had to shift from his position that he would not negotiate on the debt ceiling. And he was forced to bow to GOP demands for lower domestic discretionary spending and new work requirements for food stamps, which infuriated liberals.  

Yet Biden also emerged as a winner in the negotiations by getting the House GOP to agree to raise the debt ceiling through Jan. 1, 2025, kicking any future showdown beyond the elections next year.  

In the end, Biden didn’t have to make any huge concessions. Even on the food stamps issue, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the government could spend more money on nutrition assistance under the deal because of provisions negotiated to increase access for veterans, the homeless and other vulnerable groups.  

Biden took some criticism from the left, but a vast majority of the House Democratic caucus voted for the legislation.  

In next year’s campaign, Biden will surely use the negotiations to argue that he’s a political leader able to work with Republicans and win bipartisan deals.  

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)

Manchin for years has been pushing federal regulators to approve the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile natural gas project that cuts through the heart of Appalachia.  

The debt-ceiling deal provides expedited permits allowing final construction of the pipeline to resume.  

The provision is a huge victory for Manchin, who faces what’s shaping up to be the toughest reelection contest of his Senate tenure next year, when he’s facing a popular — and wealthy — GOP governor in Jim Justice.  

The agreement also includes permitting reforms designed to expedite other energy infrastructure projects around the country, provisions Manchin can also point to next year.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)  

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

From the start, McConnell said that he would take a back seat on negotiations to raise the debt limit, insisting that it was a matter to be hashed out between the House and White House.  

Many didn’t believe him. But in the end, he got exactly what he wanted. 

The Senate GOP leader stayed on the sidelines throughout months of discussions over the borrowing limit, despite the White House trying to pull the Kentucky Republican into negotiations and Democrats hoping he would swoop in and land a debt limit deal with Biden, as the pair did in 2011. 

“It was clear from the outset that preserving the full faith and credit of the United States was going to come down to an agreement that could both pass the people’s House and earn the president’s signature,” McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor Thursday. “In other words, direct negotiations between Speaker McCarthy and President Biden. Just like I’ve said for months.” 


The House Freedom Caucus 

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas)

Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus didn’t like the final bill, but they couldn’t stop it. 

And in the end, the vote wasn’t even really close.  

“I’m trying to figure out exactly what conservatives should be happy about,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), a member of the group, said this week.  

The bill doesn’t cut spending as much as they wanted, suspends the debt ceiling for almost a year longer than conservatives had hoped, and excludes a long list of policy provisions favored by the GOP, including the repeal of green energy tax credits and an immediate end to Biden’s student loan forgiveness program.  

The bill also empowered McCarthy, who has to deal with threats to his continued Speakership from the right, but was able to signal his control over his conference with this week’s vote. 


Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)

Liberals were also left grousing over the nature of the compromise, which included a long list of policies they oppose and led 46 of them in the House to vote against the legislation when it hit the floor Wednesday. Five Senate liberals also opposed the measure.

The progressives had urged Biden to hold the line in his demand for a “clean” debt ceiling hike, only to see the president come to the table and negotiate a host of cuts and policy changes.  

They had opposed any new work requirements for social benefit programs, only to see Democratic leaders agree to new limits on eligibility for low-income food assistance.  

They have howled at the notion of easing environmental reviews for energy infrastructure projects, which was included in the package.  

And they had urged the president to demand tax hikes, not just spending cuts, as a deficit-reduction strategy — yet another item excluded from the final deal.  

“This travesty has proven that we must once and for all reform the debt limit so that the working and poor people of this country can never be taken hostage again,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. 

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