House Republican conservatives and moderates alike are grumbling about the newly unveiled debt limit bill, leaving GOP leaders — who have just four votes to spare in the slim majority — rushing to shore up support as the House left Washington on Thursday for the long weekend.
The bill released Wednesday — which pairs a $1.5 trillion debt ceiling increase with a Republican wish list of cost-cutting measures — is the GOP’s first legislative effort to pull President Biden to the negotiating table on the debt limit. Republican leaders are hoping to quickly bring it to the floor early next week.
But they have their work cut out for them between now and then.
Some members, like Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), long have opposed debt limit hikes in general and suggest they could do so again. Biggs said he is a “lean no,” while Burchett said he is undecided as he looks over the bill.
And the skepticism does not stop with hardline conservative Republicans.
“I’m leaning no,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said Wednesday, expressing frustration that House Republicans have separated a long-term balanced budget goal from the debt ceiling negotiations. “It’s just crazy to me this idea that we can’t talk about this or have a plan for this over the next decade. Why can’t that be part of the conversation?”
Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who has remained in the House and assisted Republicans in passing legislation despite a swath of controversies and widespread calls for his removal, signaled he will not be a sure vote for leadership this time.
“I said no already … a hard no,” Santos said, adding he wants tougher work requirements for certain benefit programs, among other changes.
A handful of conservatives are also pushing for higher work requirements; at least one wants to repeal larger portions of Biden’s climate and social benefits law enacted last year. Some Republicans say they’re still sifting through the 320-page bill, creating more uncertainty — and a potential headache — for GOP leadership as it works to put the legislation over the finish line next week.
“I just need to make sure we’ve got it structured the way it needs to be structured,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said.
GOP leaders are downplaying any divisions, voicing confidence they’ll have the 218 votes needed to pass the package when it hits the floor.
McCarthy said leadership is in “very good shape” in getting support for the bill, teasing the Capitol press corps for closely tracking the skeptics of the legislation.
“I want the anticipation,” McCarthy said. “I want you to see as the clock goes up. I want you to write stories like, I’m teetering, whether I could win or not, and the whole world hangs in the balance. And then I want to write a story after it passes: Would the president sit down and negotiate?”
But Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), who has been deeply involved in crafting the bill pairing a $1.5 trillion debt limit increase with what Republicans say is $4.5 trillion in “savings,” acknowledged that there is still work to do to shore up support.
“Full transparency: Are there people that have raised … some issues and some cats and dogs? Yeah, and we’re having conversations,” Graves told The Hill. “But it’s a great package, and I’m confident that we’re gonna be able to get there.”
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said the plan is to bring the package to the floor “early next week.” And Republicans are hoping a show of unity on the vote will give them greater leverage in the monthslong debt limit battle with Biden, who is insisting on a “clean” hike without the spending cuts GOP leaders are demanding.
“It’s going to be up to the president to finally start doing his job,” Scalise said. “The president’s trying to hide and run the clock out.”
Given their slim majority, GOP leaders can afford to lose only four Republicans if Democrats are united against the legislation. And House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that Republicans will be on their own.
“They’ll either produce the votes, and they’ll pass a bill out of the House next week, or they won’t,” Jeffries said. “I’m pretty confident that not a single member of the House Democratic Caucus is going to support their extreme proposal.”
To rally GOP support, a group of conservatives, moderates and Graves huddled in the Capitol Thursday afternoon to discuss the bill.
One of the remaining sticking points is work requirements for Medicaid and raising the age for work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Under the GOP’s proposed legislation, recipients aged 18 to 56 who do not have dependents and are not disabled would be required to work, look for employment or volunteer for at least 20 hours a week.
Yet some conservatives, including Roy and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), want to raise that number to 30 hours.
“I’ll probably be pushing for more rigor for the work requirements every moment up to the vote,” Gaetz said.
But that increase could pose an issue for more moderate Republicans. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, said a 30-hour work requirement “would be a huge challenge in a lot of states.”
Roy is also pushing for more provisions that would repeal parts of the climate, tax and health care package that Democrats passed and Biden signed into law last summer. The measure already includes some repeals — it would rescind the bulk of an IRS funding boost enacted in the legislation — but the Freedom Caucus member is not satisfied.
“I want to make sure all of those [Inflation Reduction Act] subsidies, that we’re reducing those where they need to be in order to free up the American economy instead of strangling them to death like we’re currently doing,” Roy told reporters after emerging from the closed-door meeting.
“There’s a couple little things in there I’m still trying to make sure that it does everything it needs to do,” he added.
On the other end of the spectrum, Mace expressed concern that the bill — which includes a repeal of Inflation Reduction Act tax credits for clean energy — could “hurt green energy like solar.”
And Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, suggested some provisions lawmakers previously agreed upon still need to be clarified.
Biggs also criticized the bill for not being slated to go through committees of jurisdiction despite leaders having promised to move most legislation through regular order due to pressure from hardline conservative members.
“I’m pissed off — yes, I’m really upset about that,” Biggs said. “It’s a crying shame. We could have been doing these bills individually.”
Leaders have defended the process by saying the bill has been crafted in the “committee of the whole,” and that much of the content in the bill has been discussed in the conference for months. Even some conservative regular-order hawks are not insisting upon it in this case.
“Most of it’s just cutting a bunch of things. That’s not rocket science,” said Roy. “It’s not like new policy.”
After House leaders included suggestions from members of the House Freedom Caucus in the bill after McCarthy presented a framework to members earlier this week, leaders are successfully wooing some of them.
“I don’t want to vote for a debt ceiling increase. I don’t think we ought to be spending at a level where we need to increase the debt ceiling,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.). But he said the bill is “demonstrating that Republicans do have a plan to get us to a path of fiscal responsibility with meaningful cuts upfront, meaningful cuts over time.”