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Jeffries preps for Plan B as historic debt default looms

House Democrats have prepped legislation that would allow them to get around Speaker Kevin McCarthy on the debt ceiling — but only if they have some Republican support.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., at the Capitol on April 28, 2023.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., at the Capitol on Friday.Eric Lee / Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Tuesday pressed forward with a Plan B to raise the federal borrowing limit without any strings attached, as the Treasury Department warned the nation was inching closer to its first debt default in history.

Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., sent a letter to colleagues informing them that Democrats are taking steps to give Congress another option to avert a debt default as President Joe Biden rejects demands by House Republicans for deep spending cuts.

Jeffries said Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, the top Democrat on the influential Rules Committee, has filed a special rule that would allow a clean bipartisan debt ceiling bill to be brought to the floor without the support of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and his leadership team.

The backup option, however, still faces big hurdles. To pass the lower chamber, it would need backing from all Democrats and a handful of rank-and-file House Republicans. Then it would need to be approved by at least 60 senators to defeat a GOP filibuster. 

“The filing of a debt ceiling measure to be brought up on the discharge calendar preserves an important option,” Jeffries wrote his colleagues. “It is now time for MAGA Republicans to act in a bipartisan manner to pay America’s bills without extreme conditions.”

The Jeffries letter comes one day after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen informed McCarthy and Congress that the U.S. will hit its borrowing limit and face a potential default as early as June 1, sooner than previously expected.

“Democrats aren’t gonna let procedure hold us up from getting what needs to be done, done” and won’t be “caught flat-footed,” a senior House Democratic aide said. But the source conceded that Republicans would still need to sign on to a discharge effort and, if unified, would have the power to block it.

Jeffries' letter was first reported by The New York Times.

Earlier Tuesday, McCarthy accepted an invitation from Biden to visit the White House on May 9 to discuss the debt ceiling. It would be their first substantive meeting about issues since Feb. 1.

Senate Republicans dismissed Jeffries' plan to bypass the speaker, arguing that the only way out of the crisis is for Biden and McCarthy to negotiate.

"That's not going anywhere. I don't see that happening," Senate GOP Conference Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming said in an interview. "If we come to an agreement, it's going to be an agreement between the speaker of the House and the president of the United States."

"If you have the speaker of the House and the president agreeing," he continued, "then it's going to pass with significant bipartisan support."