Far-right members threaten a 'reckoning' over McCarthy's debt limit deal
Anger over House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's deal with President Biden to raise the debt ceiling is bubbling over, with some conservative members threatening to oust McCarthy as speaker.
"This deal fails — fails completely — and that's why these members and others will be absolutely opposed to the deal and we will do everything in our power to stop it," House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania said during a press conference with caucus members Tuesday afternoon.
Texas Rep. Chip Roy, a member of the Freedom Caucus, was even more blunt: "The Republican conference right now has been torn asunder," he said. "Not one Republican should vote for this deal – not one."
Roy argued there was a "breach" in the structure set up by House Republicans after the January vote to elect McCarthy as speaker. He vowed to fight the new compromise bill and, without mentioning the speaker by name, added: "No matter what happens, there is going to be a reckoning."
Under a rule McCarthy agreed to in January as a concession to his conservative critics, any one House member can offer a resolution to remove the House speaker.
The deal McCarthy and Biden reached in principal over the weekend would avoid a historic government debt default by raising the nation's debt ceiling for nearly two years.
The compromise bill, clocking in at 99 pages long, holds nondefense spending for fiscal year 2024 at roughly current levels and will raise it by 1% in 2025. It also sets spending caps for the federal budget, raises the age of food stamp recipients subject to work requirements and claws back funding for the Internal Revenue Service, among other things. But some conservatives in the House criticized the scale of the cuts, arguing they were not fully in line with an earlier partisan bill to raise the debt ceiling that House Republicans passed in April.
One after another, members of the Freedom Caucus at the press conference called on fellow Republicans to oppose the bill.
Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., called the vote on the deal a "career-defining vote for every Republican."
Later, when asked by reporters if a motion to oust McCarthy over the bill is on the table, Bishop was the sole member to raise his hand.
McCarthy, for his part, is projecting confidence.
Asked by reporters whether he thinks his speakership is secure, McCarthy responded: "Yep."
As to opposition from members of his own conference, McCarthy defended the deal, saying "it's the most conservative deal we ever had."
He added: "Sometimes people just don't want to vote for a debt ceiling."
Rep. Patrick McHenry, one of the key negotiators of the deal, told reporters he does not believe McCarthy's job is in jeopardy.
"With a narrow majority in the House, we got the most conservative outcome we possibly could," the North Carolina Republican said. "I wanted more — I absolutely wanted more — but what we have here is better than what was about to come."
The fact that conservative GOP — and progressive Democratic — lawmakers aren't happy with the final compromise deal isn't entirely surprising. Top congressional leaders as well as President Biden said that no one would walk away completely satisfied. Rep. Greg Casar, member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told All Things Considered co-host Ailsa Chang Tuesday that "many" in the caucus are leaning against the bill over some of the spending cuts. "We have to hold the line against people getting screwed, getting kicked off of vital food programs, getting kicked off of their child care assistance, losing health care or losing housing," Casar said. The group argues that savings could have been found instead by closing tax loopholes for wealthy taxpayers.
Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, who chairs the conservative Main Street Caucus, maintains the compromise legislation can still pass the House.
"The vast majority of the Republican conference in the House is going to vote for this bill. And, and how could they not? It is in many ways an historic accomplishment," he said, noting the reduction in spending and changes to welfare reform policy.
Asked on Monday whether he was aware of any threat to McCarthy as speaker, Johnson said he hadn't heard of one.
The rules panel could also derail the deal
The House Rules Committee, the next stop for the legislation, convenes Tuesday afternoon. The panel includes nine Republicans and four Democrats and typically paves the way for bills drafted by the speaker to the House floor.
If three GOP members join with Democrats, they could derail the deal. Democratic members could also decide to support the legislation since President Biden sealed the debt deal.
Two members — Roy and South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman — belong to the Freedom Caucus.
Another conservative, Rep. Tom Massie, R-Ky., could join Roy and Norman in the Rules panel to push for amendments or block the bill.
A vote on the House floor could come Wednesday evening, after which point the Senate would take up the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has already said there may be a weekend vote to get the legislation passed before June 5, the date at which the Treasury Department has said the U.S. may run out of money to pay its bills.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.