With negotiations in the White House underway this week, House Republicans are getting more candid about what compromises they consider most feasible in a debt ceiling deal.  

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a deputy to Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) who was central to outlining the House GOP debt limit bill, told reporters in a lengthy pen-and-pad discussion Thursday that the lowest-hanging fruits for agreement with Democrats are permitting reform, work requirements for public assistance programs, spending caps and rescinding unspent COVID-19 funds.

“If I were the person that were trying to lead a successful negotiation, I would grab those four and start with those,” Graves said.

Other House Republicans echoed those expectations — but some in the conference will likely expect more in the final agreement. And they point out that Democrats have not yet outlined any alternative to their own plan.

McCarthy also said Thursday that the talks between the White House and Republicans have not been productive so far.

“The president does not want a deal on this. He just wants to have default,” McCarthy said.

House Republicans’ debt bill — which was intended to be a starting point for negotiations — paired a $1.5 trillion debt ceiling increase with about $4.8 trillion in spending cuts and policy reforms. But they knew that much of that was a nonstarter for Democrats. 

In addition to capping spending at fiscal 2022 levels, clawing back unused COVID-19 funds, blocking President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program and rescinding a boost in IRS funding passed last year, the legislation included the entirety of Republicans’ H.R. 1 energy bill that would boost production of fossil fuels.

Here are the areas where Republicans are optimistic about reaching a deal.

Permitting reform

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)

The White House has signaled its support for Sen. Joe Manchin’s permitting reform bill, meaning the issue could be part of a debt ceiling compromise to avoid default. (Annabelle Gordon)

Efforts to streamline regulations and procedures for building new energy projects have been a priority in both parties, though they have disagreed on the details. 

Graves highlighted comments from White House clean energy adviser John Podesta about the need for permitting reform at the Bipartisan Policy Center this week. And the White House is supporting Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) recently reintroduced permitting reform bill.

“I think that Dems need permitting reform more than Republicans do,” Graves said.

Graves thinks “it’s doable” to strike a deal. “We could perhaps do some permitting reform now and come back even in months and do some of these other things that need to be done.”

Even House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) did not rule out the possibility of supporting permitting reform when asked about it at a press briefing Thursday.

Work requirements

Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.)

Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) speaks to a reporter outside the House Chamber on Thursday, April 20, 2023 following the last votes of the week.

House Republicans’ debt increase bill beefed up work requirements to 20 hours per week for recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (previously known as food stamps) between 50 and 56 years old. There were also changes proposed to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and an outline for work requirements for Medicaid.

“The lowest-hanging fruit are those areas where common-sense Democrats in the past have had robust support, and work requirements are certainly among them,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), the chair of the Republican Main Street Caucus who has spent a lot of time on crafting work requirements.

“We don’t live in a world with unlimited resources, and so for those who want to increase SNAP benefits for the most needy Americans, I would say work requirements are one way that we can make sure that we prioritize resources for people who need it most,” Johnson said.

Spending caps

House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., left, speaks with Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, as the panel prepares Republican legislation that would prohibit transgender women and girls from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, April 17, 2023. The Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2023 would amend Title IX, the federal education law that bars sex-based discrimination, to define sex as based solely on a person's reproductive biology and genetics at birth. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A centerpiece of the GOP’s debt limit bill was putting a cap on discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels while allowing for 1 percent annual growth for 10 years.

Graves said that the White House is “certainly pushing for a shorter window” on a spending caps agreement.

Cutting spending has been central to the Republican wish list for the debt limit, and was a major issue in McCarthy’s drawn-out Speaker election.

“My guess is the president would have to spend less than he likes, we would have to spend more than we like,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), chair of the House Rules Committee.

Rescind unspent COVID-19 funds 

President Biden speaks to reporters alongside Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

President Biden speaks to reporters alongside Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) following a Senate Democratic Caucus luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, March 2, 2023. (Annabelle Gordon)

Biden said following his meeting with McCarthy and other top leaders at the White House on Thursday that rescinding unspent COVID-19 relief funds is “on the table,” giving Republicans reason to believe that a compromise there is possible.

“The fact that within 24 hours at the end of the meeting, they’re already stepping forward acknowledging Republicans’ strength in those areas is exceedingly good news,” Johnson said.