Speaker Kevin McCarthy unveiled a 320-page debt limit bill on Wednesday — and conservatives are taking a victory lap, including some hardliners who nearly derailed his bid for the speakership three months ago.
“If you held this plan and the plan that the House Freedom Caucus laid out some weeks ago and held them up to a lamp, you would see a lot of alignment,” Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, one of McCarthy’s biggest antagonizers, told reporters.
“The leadership just picked up the House Freedom Caucus plan, and helped us convert it into legislative text,” he later added.
The early hours of the legislation’s introduction went as well as it could have for McCarthy. Key Republicans were very supportive. Reps. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, a leader of the moderate Republican Main Street Caucus, and Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, both told Semafor they would vote for the legislation.
The debt limit plan would raise the borrowing cap by $1.5 trillion or through March 2024, whichever comes first. In return, it’s loaded with right-wing demands that reflect the power of that part of the GOP conference.
It includes a partial repeal of President Biden’s signature climate and tax bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, and imposes additional work requirements on both the food stamp program and Medicaid. It trims discretionary spending by $130 billion and restrains its annual growth to 1% for a decade. It also scraps Biden’s student debt relief program and includes energy policy reforms.
Most of these ideas are unlikely to go far with Democrats (President Biden called the proposal “wacko”). But at this stage McCarthy needs to show that, with just votes to spare, he can pass a bill — any bill — to lift the debt limit if he wants to have credibility negotiating with the White House on a compromise.
GOP leaders downplayed the possibility that Republicans from Biden districts would balk at the bill . “All elements of our conference have been heavily involved over the last few months in putting this package together,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise told Semafor
Republicans said they intended to bring the bill to the floor next week. It’s possible that more changes will be made to the bill to win over holdouts before then.
Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs expressed openness to voting for the bill, but told Semafor he wanted to see even stricter rules around food stamps. The current legislation would apply work requirements to childless, able-bodied adults as old as age 56, up from age 49 today. Biggs said he also wants to see aid recipients work at least 30 hours a week instead of the 20 under current law.
“It seems to me 20 hours is kind of a hobby instead of working,” Biggs told Semafor.
Biggs wasn’t alone: Tennessee Rep. Tim Burchett, once a hard-no on raising the debt limit, also expressed interest in a 30-hour work requirement. He told Semafor he was still reviewing the bill on Wednesday evening.
One no on the bill so far? Rep. George Santos is reportedly a “hard pass” on the legislation as currently written.
Room for Disagreement
At least one moderate Republican isn’t happy with the legislation because it doesn’t balance the budget within a decade. “The last time we balanced the budget was under President Clinton. The last time a Republican balanced the budget was when President Nixon was in office,” Rep. Nancy Mace told reporters. “So it's just crazy to me this idea that we can't talk about this or have a plan for this over the next decade.”
— Reporting contributed by Kadia Goba