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McCarthy's debt limit deal faces first critical GOP test

Congressional GOP leaders are pressing ahead with plans for a House vote Wednesday on the debt ceiling deal, in the face of opposition from conservatives who say the deal does not cut spending enough to justify extending the government’s borrowing limit.  

A key early test will come Tuesday afternoon, when the House Rules Committee is set to vote on the rule governing debate over the measure.   

Such rules are generally party-line efforts, but two Republicans on the House Rules panel — Reps. Chip Roy (Texas) and Ralph Norman (S.C.) — have emerged as harsh critics of the deal negotiated by President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).   

McCarthy could afford their defections but would have only one vote to spare, assuming the panel’s four Democrats all vote against the rule.

The legislation has triggered opposition from Republicans such as Roy and Norman, who are disappointed the GOP did not win bigger concessions from the White House, but also progressives who think that Biden gave too much to the GOP to secure an extension of the debt ceiling through Jan. 2025 — beyond next year’s elections.  

McCarthy and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have offered strong support, while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) have been more circumspect in talking about the legislation.   

The careful language from Schumer and Jeffries likely reflects their desire that McCarthy and McConnell be forced to bring a lot of the necessary votes for the package in each chamber. Both Democratic leaders have emphasized the importance of not risking a national default. 

The most outspoken criticism of the deal, so far, has been limited to a small group of House Republicans.    

National security-minded Republicans, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), aren’t thrilled with the modest 3 percent increase in defense spending, which mirrors Biden’s budget proposal, but they’re not in a position to rework the deal before the June 5 deadline Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen set for raising he debt ceiling.    

The House Rules Committee is where conservatives have the most leverage to block the bill, because Roy, Norman and a third conservative, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), an outspoken fiscal hawk, all sit on the panel, which has nine Republican and four Democratic members. 

Roy on Monday said McCarthy promised conservatives during his bid to win the Speaker’s gavel in January that he would not to move anything out of the Rules Committee without seven Republican votes. 

“A reminder that during Speaker negotiations to build the coalition, that it was explicit both that nothing would pass the Rules Committee without AT LEAST 7 GOP votes — AND that the Committee would not allow reporting out rules without unanimous Republican votes,” Roy tweeted Monday. 

When asked about the accuracy of Roy’s tweet and the dynamics of the Rules Committee, Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) — who was involved in negotiations with McCarthy’s opponents during the Speakership fight in January — deflected.

“I’ll just say succinctly that we control the Rules Committee, and we would like our rules to come to the floor with the majority of Republican votes,” Hill said a press call Sunday.

Roy declared he will not support the debt limit package because “it’s not a good deal.” 

“Some $4 trillion in debt for — at best — a two-year spending freeze and no serious substantive policy reforms,” he tweeted.   

Norman signaled his opposition Saturday.  

“This ‘deal’ is insanity,” he tweeted. “A $4T debt ceiling increase with virtually no cuts is not what we agreed to. Not gonna vote to bankrupt our country. The American people deserve better.”   

The wildcard is Massie, who has a history of bucking his party’s leadership and is so concerned about federal spending that he sometimes wears a digital pin on the front of his suit jacket that tracks the national debt in real time.  

McCarthy and Biden, however, made a significant concession to the Kentucky lawmaker by including a proposal he floated: an automatic 1 percent cut on government funding levels in stopgap funding measures. 

Massie also said earlier this year that his objection to a bill would not necessarily mean he would block it in the Rules Committee. “I’m ready and fully prepared to vote for rules on bills that I’ll be a ‘hell no’ on the bill when it gets to the floor,” he said in January. 

McCarthy appointed Roy, Norman, and Massie to the panel after striking an agreement during his 15-ballot Speaker election to appoint three members of the hard-line conservative group to the Rules Committee — enough members to potentially derail legislation.

Republican and Democratic aides say the legislation will pick up strong bipartisan support if it can make it past the Rules Committee. 

“I think it eventually passes, because I think both sides get something out of it, and that’s how bipartisan negotiations work,” said Jonathan Kott, a Democratic strategist and former aide who hailed it as a win for Biden.  

But Kott cautioned the Rules Committee poses a serious test for the deal. 

“McCarthy is going to have to convince those [conservative] Republicans to vote for this bill, because right now he doesn’t have them,” he said.

A Senate Republican aide said the deal is a win for Republicans because they forced Biden to negotiate on raising the debt limit, won a spending increase for defense programs, cut nondefense programs and made some modest energy permitting reforms without agreeing to any tax increases.

The source said it also allows Biden to argue to voters that he can work with Republicans when he needs to and spares him from having to deal with a potential default that could cripple the economy, as well as the headache of facing another debt limit standoff before the 2024 election.    

“Policy-wise it gets McCarthy just what he needed, probably not anything more,” said the aide. “And Biden looks like a dealmaker, even though it took forever.”

“It’s a situation that could have gone sideways at several different stages [but] ended up working out,” the aide said. “Generally, it seems like crisis averted.”   

A Senate Democratic aide predicted that all but five or six members of the Senate Democratic caucus would vote for the deal, pointing out there’s little appetite among Democrats to vote against a bill to raise the debt limit only days before a potential federal default.    

“I think you’re going to get overwhelming support,” the aide predicted.    

The aide said Democrats are thrilled not to have another debt limit impasse in 2024, and the potential of a default or near-default that could wreck an otherwise strong domestic economy.

The source said “unlike 2011,” when then-President Obama was pushed into agreeing to steep spending cuts as part of the Budget Control Act, Democrats see the Biden-McCarthy agreement as a “much better deal.”   

The aide say Democrats are feeling relief that Biden showed he can work with McCarthy, despite the political pressure from the conservative House Freedom Caucus.   

Jim Kessler, the executive vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, the outcome of the debt ceiling talks “has the feeling of normal.” 

“This is a modest package,” he said, nothing “there were doubts whether McCarthy could cut a deal and keep his job.” 

“It looks like both of those things will happen,” he said. “This is a compromise. It doesn’t look so out of the ordinary during a time when out-of-the-ordinary was expected.”  

Emily Brooks contributed. 

Source: The Hill

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