Kevin McCarthy has his work cut out for him next week.
As of Friday afternoon, the House speaker still hadn’t wrapped up enough votes to pass Republicans’ party-line debt-ceiling bill, according to sources keeping tabs on the whip count. What’s more, they said, it’s unclear how McCarthy could satisfy his members’ clashing demands.
One House Republican aide described the situation as a “mess” that would need to be dealt with in the coming days. They blamed the impasse on members more interested in generating headlines than reaching a deal.
“Some members do it for their district, and other members do it for headlines,” the aide said. “And so we just end up with, as I call them, exercises in futility.”
Brian Riedl, a Republican budget expert who has communicated with a dozen House GOP offices in the past day, told Semafor he could see “no direct path to reforms that would win over” all of the remaining holdouts.
“The criticism isn’t all coming from the same wing of the party,” he said. “There are moderates and conservatives and northeast Republicans who I’m told all have different concerns that are even somewhat contradictory.”
“It’s going to be a very difficult needle to thread,” he added.
Food stamps have emerged as one major point of contention. The legislation would already take steps to stiffen some of the safety net program’s eligibility rules, but hardline conservatives want to go further by requiring able-bodied recipients to work at least 30 hours a week instead of the 20 needed under current law.
Some Northeastern Republicans are balking at that demand, however. They include Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, who warned this week that he doesn’t want the program’s work requirements to become too “onerous.”
Another issue: Some Midwestern Republicans are worried about cuts to ethanol subsidies that are currently in the bill, according to the GOP aide who spoke with Semafor.
Meanwhile, South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace told E&E News she may oppose the legislation because of its cuts to green energy subsidies that Democrats passed in the Inflation Reduction Act. “Solar is huge — not only in the Lowcountry, but across the entire state of South Carolina, it’s huge,” she said. “This would adversely affect solar.”
Republicans can only lose four votes as they try to muscle their debt limit proposal past unanimous Democratic opposition. While the current bill is widely considered dead on arrival in the Senate, GOP leaders hope that passing it will force the Biden administration to come to the negotiating table after refusing to so far.
Spokespeople for McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The View From Tim Burchett
Rep. Tim Burchett, a conservative member from Tennessee who has never voted to lift the borrowing cap, said this week he was open to potentially supporting the GOP deal. On Friday, though, he told Semafor in a phone interview: “If the vote were today, I’d be a no.”
Burchett raised concerns that some of the legislation’s new eligibility rules for food stamps only kick in by 2025 instead of immediately. He also said he favored steeper cuts to discretionary spending beyond the current $130 billion reduction.
“I’d like to play to win, not play to survive another day,” Burchett said.
He said he is set to speak with Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves, one of McCarthy’s top lieutenants, on Tuesday after pressing for an earlier meeting. “I was told they would meet with me on Thursday,” Burchett said. “I raised a little Hades about that, and they moved it up a little sooner.”
Room for Disagreement
While enough Republicans have raised concerns about the bill to potentially tank it, the deal also hasn’t faced especially loud attacks. That might bode well for McCarthy, Brendan Buck, a former senior House GOP aide, told Semafor.
“The fact that there’s no organized troublemaker caucus on this is a very good sign both on the chance that they have to pass it but also how strong he may be within the conference,” said Buck. He suggested, however, that the final votes still might have to be rounded up at the last minute on the House floor.