May 19, 2023, 7:44am EDT

Conservatives stand athwart debt ceiling talks and yell stop

REUTERS/Nathan Howard

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Progressive Democrats spent much of this week on Capitol Hill scrambling to regain control over debt ceiling talks after President Biden signaled he might be open to some key Republican demands.

Thursday offered a sort of mirror image, with conservatives raising their own alarms after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy offered his first truly upbeat assessment of negotiations. “I can see where a deal can come together,” the GOP leader told reporters, adding that he was hopeful an agreement could be struck over the weekend, with a bill reaching the floor next week.

“I just believe where we were a week ago and where we are today is a much better place because we've got the right people in the room discussing it in a very professional manner,” he said.

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GOP hardliners were less sunny, as the reality seemed to set in that negotiations were headed for a compromise that would sacrifice some of their priorities. The House Freedom Caucus issued a statement urging against scaling back the GOP debt limit bill, and seemingly called on McCarthy to halt his talks altogether. “There should be no further discussion until the Senate passes the [House’s] legislation,” they said in a statement.

“No more discussion on watering it down,” the group tweeted for emphasis. “Period.”

In a slightly confusing turn, the group appeared to walk back its statement — or at least heavily caveat it — later in the day. “We're not saying you shouldn't continue to negotiate, but we can't be the buyer and the seller in the same agreement,” Freedom Caucus chair Scott Perry told CBS News.

The waffling drew some derision. “Republicans have the upper hand,” a House GOP aide told Semafor. “However this nonsense does not help us maintain that upper hand.”

At least some Republicans continued to insist McCarthy wouldn’t budge from the House’s bill. “I think the speaker’s gonna hold the line,” Rep. Andrew Clyde, a McCarthy holdout, told Semafor. “We are not going to deviate from this.”

And a few GOP members even seemed ready to up their ambitions, suggesting that McCarthy should try to insert the House’s recently passed border security bill into a debt deal.

Texas Rep. Chip Roy, a leader of the Freedom Caucus, said he’d be willing to consider a debt limit extension past the 2024 presidential election if the border bill — which the White House has already promised to veto — was tacked onto the final package. “Everything has a price,” he told Semafor.

The noises from the Freedom Caucus were a reminder that any deal capable of passing both the House and Democrat-controlled Senate risks shedding a large chunk of Republican support. The question is how many of his members McCarthy will ultimately be willing to lose, and how many Democrats will be comfortable backing a compromise that could involve some painful cuts to federal programs when many would have preferred Biden not negotiate at all.

“My impression here is that you're going to reach a narrower agreement with some face-saving measures and no triumphalism," Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means panel, said.


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