Updated Apr 21, 2023, 8:58am EDT
politicsNorth America

‘Don’t f*** it up!’: Republicans worry as hardliners push for more debt ceiling concessions

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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The News

Despite taking a few victory laps over their party’s new debt limit legislation when it was unveiled this week, some conservative Republicans in the House say they want more big policy concessions before pledging to support the proposal.

One big thing on their wish list: Even tighter limits on the food stamp program.

Rep. Scott Perry, chair of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, told reporters it was one of “a few cleanup things that we need to discuss.”

As currently written, the legislation would already expand the program’s work requirements so that they would apply to Americans as old as 56, up from 49 today. Conservative members want to go further, however, by increasing the minimum hours of work or community service able-bodied adults need to qualify for the program to 30, up from 20 under current law.

Both Reps. Tim Burchett of Tennessee and Andy Biggs of Arizona told Semafor they wanted to see the work requirement moved to 30 hours.


Many Republicans believe those demands would threaten to knock a package that’s already loaded with conservative priorities off the rails. The GOP only has four votes to spare in what’s expected to be a party-line vote with unanimous Democratic opposition next week. Republican members from the Northeast are said to be especially wary about major cuts to food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

A GOP lawmaker told Semafor that pushing the work requirement above 20 hours would start “taking numbers off the board for Republicans.”

One House GOP aide argued the House Freedom Caucus already succeeded in getting their measures into the bill and now seem to be interested in simply running up the score.

“They got a lot that wasn’t originally on the table,” they said, describing provisions repealing large chunks of the Inflation Reduction Act as major “wins” for the hardliners.

“This is a sensible proposal and we want to keep folks in lockstep. I would say don’t fuck it up!” the aide said.


For now, Republican leaders appear to be resisting any additional changes to the bill. “This is the deal,” House Majority Whip Tom Emmer said, according to CNN.

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Know More

Beyond their political concerns, some Republicans argued Thursday that pushing work requirements to 30 hours a week simply might not be a good idea on the merits.

“20 [hours] is sufficient for work,” House Agriculture Chair Glenn Thompson told Semafor, saying it allowed people to access government aid while attempting to transition to better-paying, stable jobs.

“At the end of the day, we’ll take a look at it,” he added. He isn’t alone in his concerns, though: Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of the Problem Solvers Caucus told Punchbowl News that current work requirements are “expansive” as it is and he wants to ensure they don’t become “onerous.”

One policy expert noted that lower-wage workers often work in positions with schedules that are in flux from one week to the next.


“The big concern here is that if you look at the lower end of the labor market, there’s often a lot of uncertainty in the number of hours you can get per week,” Joshua McCabe, director of social policy at the Niskanen Center, told Semafor. “You can imagine landscapers, lots of different occupations, where this could cause a lot of paperwork and a lot of trouble.”

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Joseph’s view

Republicans are under enormous pressure to satisfy demands from conservatives in order to pass legislation intended to push the White House into debt limit negotiations.

But appeasing the right carries risks other than the possibility of alienating moderates. It could also blow up the deal by convincing other GOP lawmakers that they should hold out for their own pet asks.

“Not only does a change risk losing people you already had, if you crack it open everybody will want their tweak and be pissed if they’re not accommodated,” Republican lobbyist Liam Donovan wrote on Twitter. “Easier to whip what you have.”

Some moderate members have also begun to grumble about whether their conservative colleagues may be negotiating in bad faith. “Some people are just resistant to vote yes on anything, that’s the problem,” Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon told Semafor. “You got to put a yes and make forward progress here.”

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Room for Disagreement

Contra Bacon, some Republican hardliners say they’re still simply making up their minds. “I’m undecided and I want to get to yes,” Virginia Rep. Bob Good, a Freedom Caucus member, told Semafor.

Kadia Goba contributed reporting

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This article incorrectly stated that Congressman Ryan Fitzpatrick represents a district in New Jersey. He represents Pennsylvania.