GOP conservatives fume over possible debt ceiling compromises

Hard-line conservatives are fuming over the debt deal compromise being negotiated between Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the White House — and they’re warning about collapsing GOP support.

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) said he was “concerned about rumors” he was hearing about a deal that would raise the debt ceiling higher than what House Republicans proposed without getting more concessions in return.

He offered a stark prediction of the consequences.

“If that were true, that would absolutely collapse the Republican majority for this debt ceiling increase,” Good said, adding the rumors he has heard mean the deal would be “less than desirable, I believe, to the majority of Republicans.”

Multiple lawmakers on Thursday told The Hill they’d seen proposals from the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling up to $4 trillion, which they expect would stretch beyond the 2024 elections.

Reports in the New York Times and Washington Post Thursday night said negotiators were getting closer to a deal that would limit spending more on domestic discretionary spending than defense. They also said negotiators were working out a partial clawback of an $80 billion boost to the IRS for enforcement, in order to prevent deeper limitations on the domestic side.

A source familiar with the negotiation told The Hill that there is no agreement yet on top line spending levels, nor is there one on a one- or two-year extension of the debt limit. The deal cannot come together, the source said, until there is an agreement on non-defense discretionary spending versus defense spending. 

But another source familiar with the negotiations said the two sides are “making progress,” though IRS issues are still being negotiated. The White House wants to make sure customer service and enforcement priorities are protected, “even if there is a small haircut or funding is moved around.” 

White House spokesperson Michael Kikukaws said in a statement that Biden is “fighting hard” for IRS funding.

Raising the debt limit by up to $4 trillion would be significantly higher than the $1.5 trillion figure that Republicans paired with around $4.8 trillion in deficit reductions over 10 years in a bill they passed in April.

When Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) saw those figures, he was not happy.

“It’s idiotic to accept anything less,” than the House GOP bill, said Norman, who saw a list of what negotiators could be considering from Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.).

“From what I’ve seen, watering it down is just not the answer,” Norman .

“He doesn’t have the 218 [majority] unless he gets Democrats,” Norman said, referring to McCarthy. “If he gets Democrats, that’s a telltale sign.”

The party’s right flank had lined up behind the GOP debt limit bill in April, with McCarthy winning support from some members who had never before voted for a debt limit increase. But while most Republicans saw that bill as a starting point for negotiations with Biden and expected compromise, many now insist that the GOP “hold the line” behind the bill and resist significant compromise.

As negotiators signal they are inching closer to a deal, some Republicans are starting to get more direct with their criticism of leadership.

“There’s no reason for us to be here having discussions or negotiations,” Good said, calling on the Senate to take up the House GOP bill.

McCarthy noted on Thursday that any compromise will not please everyone.

“I don’t think everybody is going to be happy at the end of the day,” McCarthy told reporters. “That’s not how this system works.”

And Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), one of McCarthy’s deputies in negotiations with the White House, brushed off worries from conservatives based on the rumors.

“I would love to know the contours of the deal that everybody knows,” McHenry told reporters when asked Thursday about discontent among conservatives. “Everybody’s trying to do a fine job of figuring out the finer details of this. But nothing’s done, and we’re in a sensitive phase with sensitive issues that remain.”

Those in the right flank do not expect measures to block President Biden’s student loan forgiveness or to rescind a major boost to IRS funds — both of which were in the House GOP debt limit bill — to be in a debt limit compromise.

“What I’m hearing is that they punted student loans. What I’m hearing is that they’re not engaging and making the changes necessary to the Inflation Reduction Act, which has basically got a $1.2 trillion price tag. What I’m hearing is that they’re not talking about getting rid of the IRS,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said. 

And Roy is underwhelmed with what he thinks might be in it.

“What I’m hearing is you got work requirements and some spending cuts,” he said. “You want to come sell that to me while also increasing the debt ceiling by another 4 trillion? … That certainly doesn’t get me excited.”

Thirty-five members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus and their allies wrote a letter to McCarthy Thursday expressing their displeasure with where they see a deal going and suggesting that McCarthy add more demands like border security measures to debt talks — something the Speaker has previously rejected.

That letter could represent a baseline number of members who will not vote for a compromise deal.

The prevailing wisdom among Republicans is that McCarthy will have to win support of the overwhelming majority of Republicans in order to keep the support of his conference.

The fact that any member has the ability to call a “motion to vacate the chair” to force a vote on removing McCarthy hangs over the Speaker’s head — though right-wingers repeatedly insist they are not talking about using that option.

McCarthy’s problems in securing a compromise may not stop in the House.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) threatened Thursday morning to use procedural moves to slow down passage of any debt bill in the Senate if it does not have “substantial” spending cuts.

“I will use every procedural tool at my disposal to impede a debt-ceiling deal that doesn’t contain substantial spending and budgetary reforms. I fear things are moving in that direction. If they do, that proposal will not face smooth sailing in the Senate,” Lee tweeted.

Mike Lillis and Brett Samuels contributed.

This story was updated at 8:28 a.m.


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