The GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation Wednesday evening to avert a first-ever government default, impose caps on federal spending and make the first major changes to SNAP work requirements in decades.

Some 165 Democrats joined 149 Republicans, a majority of both parties, in voting 314-117 to send the bill to the Senate, where it is expected to pass following a debate on amendments that will be largely symbolic.

"We produced a bill that – in divided government – takes a step towards smaller government, less regulation, more economic growth, and more take home pay," House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a floor speech ahead of the final vote on the agreement he reached with President Joe Biden last weekend. 

Ahead of the House vote, Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., warned that the Senate couldn’t adopt any amendments to the bill, because that would force House members to return to Washington to vote on an altered version of the bill.

“We can’t send anything back to the House. That would risk default,” Schumer said.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned Congress that the government runs the risk of default as soon as Monday.

As it turned out, there was more drama with a key test vote Wednesday afternoon, when the House approved the rule for debating the bill. About 40 Democrats held back their votes until nearly all of the Republicans had committed one way or the other. Some 52 Democrats ultimately wound up voting for the rule.

“We said from the very beginning that we were not going to allow America to default,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters after the rule vote.

Leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture committees say the bill effectively removes a key barrier to passing a new farm bill by taking the issue of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program work requirements off the table.

The bill would increase the maximum age for SNAP work requirements from 49 to 54, but also add exemptions for the homeless, veterans and young people under 24 who have left the foster care system. The Congressional Budget Office estimates 78,000 people will gain benefits in an average month due to the new SNAP exemptions, which more than offset the impact of the increased age limit.

“The majority of people on SNAP are working,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “The majority of people who are single, able-bodied and not working are people who are homeless, a lot of them veterans. So I expressed a real concern about making sure that we were doing enough for those folks.”

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House Ag Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson, who voted for the bill, told Agri-Pulse following the vote that he saw passage of the bill as a "tremendous win." He applauded the change in work requirements, though he criticized Biden's addition of the SNAP exemptions. 

"There's just a lot of things there that I was very pleased with. You don't get everything you want — that's just the way legislation works, but overall, it was really good for American agriculture."

Thompson, however, did not rule out revisiting the SNAP exemptions in the upcoming farm bill.

"We have a responsibility in reauthorization to look at all 12 titles," Thompson said. "We wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't do that."

Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, one of the Republican "no" votes, however, said the bill did not go far enough to cut spending. He also criticized the GOP negotiators for making concessions with Biden. 

"To my colleagues on this side of the aisle, my beef isn't that I don't understand the struggle with the negotiators against that type of reasoning," Roy said during the rule vote. "My beef is that you cut a deal that shouldn't have been cut."

During the House debate, Rep. Marc Molinaro, a New York Republican who said his mother relied on food stamps, said the bill “takes real steps to ensure those most vulnerable among us are protected and served and have access to the support that they deserve and, by the way, find their way to work.”

The bill also includes some permitting reforms intended to streamline reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act. "The NEPA reform included in this bill is an important first step, but there is no question that we will need to do much more,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas.

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