House Republicans are determined to proceed with a House vote on the debt ceiling deal despite facing fierce resistance from conservatives who argue that the agreement falls short in terms of spending cuts necessary to justify an extension of the government’s borrowing limit.
The House Rules Committee is slated to play a crucial role in this legislative battle, with a pivotal vote scheduled on Tuesday to decide the rules governing the ensuing debate on the measure. While party-line support is customary for such rules, the situation has been complicated by the emergence of two Republican representatives, Chip Roy (Texas) and Ralph Norman (S.C.), as vocal critics of the deal negotiated between President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
The opposition from Roy and Norman poses a challenge for McCarthy, who can only afford to lose one vote, assuming that the panel’s four Democrats all vote against the rule. These conservative lawmakers, along with progressive members, express disappointment with the agreement, with Republicans lamenting the lack of substantial concessions from the White House and progressives believing that Biden conceded too much to the GOP in exchange for extending the debt ceiling until January 2025, extending beyond next year’s elections.
While McCarthy and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have expressed strong support for the deal, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) have maintained a more cautious stance in discussing the legislation. Their deliberate language likely reflects a strategic calculation to ensure that McCarthy and McConnell bear the burden of securing the necessary votes in each chamber, given the Democrats’ emphasis on avoiding a national default.
Thus far, the most vehement criticism of the deal has emanated from a small faction of House Republicans. Meanwhile, national security-focused Republicans, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), express reservations about the modest 3 percent increase in defense spending, mirroring Biden’s budget proposal. However, these concerns do not provide them with sufficient leverage to reshape the deal before the June 5 deadline set by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for raising the debt ceiling.
The House Rules Committee holds significant sway in potentially blocking the bill, as conservative representatives Roy, Norman, and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a staunch fiscal conservative, all sit on the panel, which comprises nine Republicans and four Democrats. Roy highlighted the promises made by McCarthy during his bid for the Speaker’s position, indicating that at least seven GOP votes were required to move anything out of the Rules Committee.
The outcome of this high-stakes legislative showdown remains uncertain. While strong bipartisan support is expected if the bill manages to overcome the hurdle posed by the Rules Committee, McCarthy faces the challenge of persuading conservative Republicans to vote in favor of the legislation, a task that currently seems elusive.
The agreement between McCarthy and Biden, which includes an automatic 1 percent cut in government funding levels for stopgap funding measures as proposed by Massie, reflects a notable concession to the Kentucky lawmaker. However, Massie’s previous remarks indicate that his objection to a bill does not necessarily translate into blocking it in the Rules Committee.
McCarthy’s decision to appoint Roy, Norman, and Massie to the panel as part of an agreement struck during the Speaker election demonstrates his recognition of the potential to derail legislation by empowering hard-line conservative group members on the Rules Committee.
Republican and Democratic aides anticipate strong bipartisan backing for the legislation if it clears the Rules Committee. Democratic strategist Jonathan Kott asserts that both sides stand to gain from the deal, making it more likely to pass. Nevertheless, the Rules Committee remains a formidable test for the agreement, requiring McCarthy to win over conservative Republicans who currently withhold their support.
From the Republican perspective, the deal represents a victory as it compelled Biden to engage in negotiations over raising the debt limit, secured an increase in defense spending, made cuts to nondefense programs, and implemented modest energy permitting reforms, all without agreeing to any tax increases. This allows Biden to project an image of bipartisan cooperation and shields him from the economic repercussions of a potential default or near-default, as well as the political headache of another debt limit standoff leading up to the 2024 election.
Senate Democrats anticipate overwhelming support for the deal, with only a handful of members potentially voting against it. The party is relieved to avoid another debt limit impasse in 2024 and the damaging consequences of a default, which could undermine the country’s strong domestic economy.
Compared to the 2011 Budget Control Act, which forced then-President Obama to agree to significant spending cuts, Democrats view the Biden-McCarthy agreement as a more favorable outcome. They believe it showcases Biden’s ability to work with McCarthy despite pressure from the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
The outcome of the debt ceiling talks is seen by some as a return to normalcy. Jim Kessler, the executive vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, describes the deal as modest and expresses relief that McCarthy was able to negotiate and maintain his leadership position. He views the agreement as a compromise that, within the current political climate, aligns with expectations.
While the path forward remains uncertain, with the House Rules Committee serving as a major hurdle, the bipartisan negotiations and concessions made in the debt ceiling deal reflect the complexities of balancing competing interests in Congress. The outcome will impact the nation’s fiscal stability and shape the political landscape in the months to come.