House GOP leaders’ furious scramble to secure the support needed to pass a debt limit bill is not going well.
On Tuesday evening, the prognosis for the package was looking even worse than the shaky ground it stood on before lawmakers left Washington last week.
A small but consequential number of GOP lawmakers on Tuesday said they intend to vote against the party’s debt limit package if it hits the floor without substantial changes — changes Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is vowing not to make as he aims to pass the bill this week.
The critics’ opposition appears to be enough to sink the bill, which would be an embarrassing defeat for McCarthy in the first big legislative test of his young Speakership, while also weakening the Republicans’ hand in the coming fight with President Biden over how to raise the debt ceiling and prevent a government default this summer.
For at least one member who has long been resistant to the bill, a whip attempt fumbled.
“I had a meeting and they didn’t show. So I’m definitely a no now,” said Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), who has previously said he would never vote for a debt limit increase but had remained open to the GOP bill last week.
He declined to say which member of leadership missed the meeting.
“I’m not gonna flip a vote because of my ego,” Burchett said. “Just don’t take me for granted.”
Another major sticking point is midwestern Republicans who want to cut portions of the bill that would get rid of tax breaks for ethanol.
The whole Iowa delegation of four House Republicans, along with other midwestern lawmakers like Reps. Derek Van Orden (R-Wis.) and Mark Alford (R-Mo.) huddled with McCarthy in the Speaker’s office on Tuesday evening. They all declined to comment afterward, but Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said she’s spoken with several of those lawmakers and “I know some of them are a no.”
McCarthy said the ethanol issue is still unresolved.
“We’re working through that. A lot of them bring up a lot of issues there,” McCarthy told reporters. “This bill is to get us to the negotiating table, it’s not the final provisions, and there’s a number of members that will vote for it going forward and say there are some concerns they have with it … but they want to make sure the negotiation goes forward.”
The defiant Speaker – who has frequently pointed to surviving a historic 15-ballot election for the gavel this year as evidence he can win support in the narrow majority – is brushing off the struggles of getting his conference on the same page.
McCarthy said that he will get the votes “the same way we’ve done it every week when you talk to me about every other bill we’re bringing to the floor.”
Earlier in the day, Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a key player in the House GOP’s debt limit bill and strategy, was spotted heading into the office Mace, another vocal critic of the bill.
Afterwards, Mace said the arm-twisting was unsuccessful, telling reporters that she’ll vote against the package unless it undergoes fairly major changes.
“I’m a no right now,” she said. “Multiple people have reached out over the last couple of days, and today as well, and … everything I’ve said to you is what I’ve communicated back to them.”
Mace’s reservations are two-fold. She opposes the bill because of the elimination of the green energy tax credits, like those encouraging solar and wind power, which were adopted as part of Biden’s climate package last year.
“You’re closing a tax credit — essentially you’re increasing taxes,” she said.
Mace is also critical that the package doesn’t go further to reduce deficit spending, saying Republicans should use the bill to get more aggressive with efforts to rein in the nation’s $31.4 trillion debt, even if only to send the message to voters that the party is serious about the issue.
“This isn’t a serious plan to tackle the spending and the debt problems that we have today,” she said. “If it’s just a messaging bill, why aren’t we putting the best message forward to show how responsible Republicans can be when given the opportunity?”
Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is also vowing to oppose the bill if it remains unchanged. Last week he had warned that he was a “hard no” unless the bill were amended, including tougher new work requirements for recipients of federal benefits.
“Nothing has changed from my previous statement,” he said Tuesday.
Asked if he’ll remain opposed unless the bill is revised, Santos was terse.
“Yes,” he said.
And there’s more.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said he remains a “lean no” on the bill, saying the cuts proposed in the bill are not steep enough.
“I’ve made suggestions to the Speaker, he kind of laughed them off,” Biggs told One America News on Tuesday, comparing the difference between the status quo and the GOP bill to the difference between driving off a cliff at 80 miles per hour or 60 miles per hour.
“Either way when you go off the cliff, you land,” Biggs said.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is also warning that he’ll withhold his support unless the work requirement provision is altered to expedite the date when it would take effect, from 2025 to 2024.
“Otherwise, it’s a no vote from me,” he tweeted.
Still, House leadership and their allies are projecting confidence. Leaders plan to present the details of the bill to members at a closed-door conference meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday morning.
“People wanted to know what the final details were. So on any major package like this, people want to see how much is this going to save taxpayers. You look at each of the pieces,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said.
Scalise declined to say whether the bill would come to the floor on Wednesday, as some members had projected.
“I think we’re in a really good spot,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), head of the Main Street Caucus.
Mychael Schnell contributed.