Kevin McCarthy is trying to find his way out of a corn maze.
The House speaker spent much of Tuesday attempting to quell a rebellion against his party’s debt limit bill from midwestern Republicans, including the whole Iowa delegation, who were unhappy it would repeal ethanol tax credits passed under the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as conservatives, who demanded more spending cuts and tougher work requirements on safety net programs.
At about 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, Republican leaders filed amendments to their package aimed at winning over the holdouts. With the changes, the bill would no longer repeal some of the biofuels tax credits the corn-belt Republicans expressed concern over, and would allow companies that had already made business decisions based on the credits to claim two others. The amendment would also move up the start date of new work requirements for the federal food stamp program by a year, a key conservative demand, and nix additional IRA spending.
For much of Tuesday, Republican leaders had insisted they wouldn’t make any additional changes to the bill. “We’re done negotiating,” Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson, a member of GOP leadership, told reporters.
But by late in the day, there appeared to be enough dug-in resistance to tank the effort, given that Republicans can only afford to lose four votes. In addition to pushback from the Iowans, Reps. Tim Burchett and Matt Gaetz both said they remained opposed to the bill on Tuesday, while Rep. Andy Biggs told reporters he still “leans” no.
South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace also said she was “leaning no” without further changes due to concerns about eliminating federal subsidies benefiting wind farms and solar energy, which she said amounted to a tax increase.
During an interview on CNN Tuesday night, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said that 8 Republicans were still against the bill, and he didn’t expect a vote on Wednesday.
Republican leaders had vowed to bring their bill to the floor for a vote by then, but as of late Tuesday, their schedule was unclear. Asked by reporters Tuesday, McCarthy said only that a vote was still planned for this week. House majority leader Steve Scalise wouldn’t commit to a Wednesday vote.
The changes don’t address all of the concerns expressed by potential holdouts. Some conservatives have demanded that the work requirement for food stamps be moved up from 20 hours to 30, for instance.
“I want to see people work for more than just a hobby,” House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry told Semafor as he departed McCarthy’s office Tuesday afternoon. He didn’t say whether he’d support the plan or not.
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It’s not clear yet whether McCarthy’s changes will do the trick. But don’t be surprised to see him bring up the bill Wednesday and dare his holdouts to vote against it. Unlike his Democratic predecessor Nancy Pelosi, who famously avoided calling votes unless she was sure she could win, the GOP leader has shown a willingness to roll the dice on the floor.
“We just may find out how good Republican leadership is at twisting arms,” Brian Riedl, a budget expert at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, told Semafor. “This becomes a key loyalty vote.”
There is a chance that McCarthy gets bailed out by Democratic attendance problems. Virginia Rep. Don Beyer told Semafor that Democratic leaders Hakeem Jeffries and Katherine Clark bore down on rank-and-file Democrats after Republicans barely passed their Parents Bill of Rights plan, partly due to Democratic absences.
“Hakeem and Katherine, especially as our whip, really made it clear a couple weeks after that they want everybody to show up,” Beyer said.
Johnson said GOP leaders are expecting at least one GOP absence on Wednesday, followed by two on Thursday. But at least one GOP lawmaker will be out all week. On the Democratic side, Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee is recovering from surgery. Nine Democrats were absent along with six Republicans at Monday’s House vote.
Room for Disagreement
GOP leaders are still projecting confidence that a bill could pass as soon as Wednesday. “We’re gonna be good, we’re gonna pass it tomorrow,” House Majority Whip Tom Emmer told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.