Editor’s note: President Biden has said he refuses to meet with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for debt limit negotiations until Republicans release a 10-year budget proposal. A previous version of this story contained incorrect information.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday laid out his opening salvo for a go-it-alone debt limit increase bill he hopes will bring President Biden to the negotiating table — but first, he has to wrangle members of his own conference.
With just a four-member majority and a still-unfinished bill as of Tuesday afternoon, Republican leaders’ push for a floor vote as soon as next week could prove to be a heavy lift.
A number of House Republicans leaving a conference meeting on Tuesday where McCarthy presented the debt limit plan said they were not ready to support the coming bill, with several hardline conservatives pushing for more cuts.
“I don’t know what’s in the package completely. That’s the issue,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chair of the hardline House Freedom Caucus.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) similarly said that “there are a number of really critical details we’ve still got to work out before making a final decision on a vote.”
“We ain’t there yet,” Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) said. “It’s got to be robust.”
Some members warned that any measure without deep cuts cannot pass in the House.
“We have got to ensure that our immediate cuts exceed the amount of the debt ceiling increase. If we don’t cut more in the immediacy, then I don’t think there’s any way we can get to 218,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) said.
Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) returns to the House Chamber on the second day of the 118th session of Congress on Jan. 4. (Greg Nash)
The eventual debt limit bill would be the House GOP’s first firm offer in debt limit negotiations. Biden has refused to meet with McCarthy on the matter Republicans release a 10-year budget proposal.
The framework includes reverting discretionary non-defense spending to fiscal 2022 levels and implementing work requirements for safety net programs.
But a number of details in the debt bill are still being ironed out, and members leaving the meeting said that several people pushed for it to go further in terms of cuts and spending clawbacks.
House GOP leaders are aiming to move on the bill next week, according to House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.). It is possible that the bill is fast-tracked to the floor rather than going through a regular order committee process.
With just four votes to spare in a slim majority — and a lowered threshold for forcing a vote to oust the Speaker hanging over his head — McCarthy and other leaders are maneuvering carefully.
McCarthy met with several members of the House Freedom Caucus in his office on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the debt limit bill.
“Many of us are looking for as many upfront first year savings, as much as possible,” Perry said. “If you want to raise the debt ceiling, let’s reduce the amount of the increase by paying off things now that we owe for.”
Several members in the morning House GOP conference meeting suggested adding on a repeal of green energy tax credits and an Internal Revenue Service enforcement funding boost that were part of the Inflation Reduction Act passed last year, and Perry said Tuesday afternoon that a full repeal of the Democrats’ major climate, tax and health care bill could be on the table.
But other members worry that taking such steps would not be productive for debt ceiling negotiations because the Congressional Budget Office would score the bill as adding to the deficit.
“I don’t recommend that the Speaker, the majority leader include any tax or revenue position,” said Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.). “I don’t think we should send a revenue measure to the Senate.”
But others dismissed those concerns.
“I don’t think anybody should get wrapped around the axle by the CBO score,” Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.) said, noting how some of its previous estimates have been off.
McCarthy told reporters he will probably agree to the repeal of some aspects of the Inflation Reduction Act that members are asking for despite concerns about sending those measures to the Senate.
“Am I concerned about it? Yeah. But will I? Probably,” McCarthy said.
Any House GOP debt limit measure is unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate in its initial form — and is not intended to be the final debt ceiling deal.
“That is our first offer in this debt ceiling negotiation,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the chair of the House Financial Services Committee and a close ally of McCarthy. “We’ll see if the President’s willing to come to the table and negotiate like previous Presidents have. And if he doesn’t, then it’s really a detriment to the country and the economy.”
“This is not the end of this discussion. This is merely the beginning of this discussion,” Perry said.
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), who has previously said that he will not vote to raise the debt limit at all, said he cannot envision voting for the measure yet, but he is open to changing his mind.
“Kevin McCarthy’s kept his word on the things he said he was going to do,” Burchett said. “I’ve been lied to for five years on this thing, and I’ve given our own party opportunity to lie to me, and I hope they don’t.”
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) addresses reporters during a press conference on March 10 with members of the House Freedom Caucus to discuss the debt limit. (Annabelle Gordon)
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) told conservative radio host Glenn Beck that McCarthy did a “good job laying out the baseline” for a debt increase bill, including reverting back to fiscal 2022 discretionary spending levels. But he wants more specifics, including repealing green energy subsidies and repealing a boost to IRS funding, both measures approved in the last Congress.
“Republicans better damn well fight for those things, force it as far as we can get it,” Roy said.
It is not only hardliners who are wanting more details before signing on to support the bill.
“I don’t know that we’re in a strong enough position yet,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said. “I want to see what the details are and make sure that we’re negotiating from the strongest position possible.”
Despite the skepticism, GOP leaders are optimistic about passing the bill and noted that members did not object to the proposals in the plan outlined by McCarthy — but just had more suggestions.
“No one has committed to everything. The speaker has laid out a path. Everybody’s having a discussion about it. I’m confident we’re gonna get something done,” House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) said.
McCarthy told reporters that he is not worried that a lack of bill text is stopping people from supporting the debt limit increase plan.
“I want to be honest. Speaker McCarthy has a tough job. I’m not trying to give him an excuse — it is hard,” Roy said.
Mychael Schnell and Aris Folley contributed.