Speaker Kevin McCarthy toiled on Wednesday to lock down the votes to pass his deal with President Biden to suspend the debt ceiling and set federal spending limits, as a stream of defections from hard-right lawmakers raised the stakes for a climactic set of votes on the package.
With the nation’s first-ever default looming in days, the House was on track to begin consideration on Wednesday afternoon of a plan to defer the nation’s borrowing limit for two years — allowing the government to borrow unlimited sums as necessary to pay its obligations — in exchange for two years of spending caps and a string of policy concessions that Republicans demanded.
To muster a 218-vote majority to push the bill through the closely divided House, congressional leaders must cobble together a coalition of Republicans willing to back it and enough Democrats to make up for what was shaping up to be a substantial number of G.O.P. defections. Mr. McCarthy and his lieutenants predicted they would be able to do so and scheduled a final vote for Wednesday night, well after markets have closed.
Hard-right lawmakers are in open revolt over the compromise and have vowed to try to derail it, with some warning of dire consequences for Mr. McCarthy for shepherding it. Multiple right-wing lawmakers have savaged the bill, publicly using a profanity-laced description to compare it to a foul-tasting sandwich and arguing that it does nothing to secure the kind of deep spending cuts and rollbacks of Biden administration policies for which they have agitated.
“Completely unacceptable,” said Representative Dan Bishop, Republican of North Carolina. “Trillions and trillions of dollars in debt, for crumbs. For a pittance.”
While Republican leaders have expressed confidence that they will have the votes to pass the legislation, it was not clear whether they would have to rely on support from Democrats in procedural votes to clear its way for passage — a remarkably rare occurrence that would be seen as a defeat. Mr. McCarthy, a California Republican, has repeatedly said that he would secure the support of a majority of his conference for the bill itself — an unwritten but virtually inviolable rule long adhered to by speakers of both parties for bringing up legislation.
“I’m confident we’ll pass the bill,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. Ticking off what he described as critical savings in the compromise, he added, “If people are against saving all that money, or work reforms in welfare reform — I can’t do anything about that.”
In a closed-door conference meeting on Tuesday night that lasted more than an hour, Mr. McCarthy and his negotiators sought to sell their conference on the compromise, saying that Democrats had not scored any victories in the bipartisan talks and that his team had fought strenuously against the White House to prevent tax increases and secure new work requirements for social safety net programs, according to lawmakers who attended.
“In a progressive-left administration and Democratic Senate, we will now have new work requirements,” Representative Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina, one of the Republican negotiators, said at a news conference following the meeting. “We have conservative reforms that are included in this debt ceiling, and these things should help Republicans rally to the cause.”
But even as the meeting unfolded, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the changes in work requirements for food stamp eligibility — tightening them for some adults but loosening them for others, including veterans — would actually increase federal spending on the program by $2 billion. Overall, the budget office estimated the deal would make an additional 78,000 people eligible for nutrition assistance.
As Republicans met in the basement of the Capitol, the Rules Committee voted to advance the bill to the House floor on a narrow vote, with two ultraconservative members of the panel bucking their party to oppose allowing the plan to be considered.
With defections from House Republicans stacking up, it remained unclear how many votes Democrats would need to provide to pass the bill and send it to the Senate, where conservative opponents were threatening to slow its consideration. Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader, said on Tuesday that Mr. McCarthy had not told him how many Democrats would need to vote for the bill to ensure its passage, but that Republicans had pledged to produce at least 150 votes for the measure. That would mean several dozen Democrats would have to vote yes to secure passage.
Only one hard-right Republican so far — Mr. Bishop — has publicly said that he considered the debt and spending deal grounds for ousting Mr. McCarthy from his post.
Under the rules House Republicans adopted at the beginning of the year that helped Mr. McCarthy become speaker, any single lawmaker could call for a snap vote to remove him from the speakership, a move that would take a majority of the House. But other hard-right conservatives were holding their fire, saying it was too early to consider the move.
Representative Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press Now” that he had discussed the issue with the chairman of Freedom Caucus, Representative Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania. “Let’s get through this battle and decide if we want another battle,” Mr. Buck said was the response.
Still, asked if there would be consequences for Mr. McCarthy if the bill passed with more Democratic votes than Republican ones, Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina replied: “It’s going to be a problem.”