WASHINGTON — Hard-line conservative Republicans are anxious about a possible deal between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and President Joe Biden that would avert a catastrophic debt default.
The arrangement would raise the government’s debt ceiling through next year, depriving Republicans of another chance to take it hostage before 2024.
“They want to move it past the presidential election,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, told HuffPost on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters, Norman and others in his party said they’d just heard that negotiators were leaning toward a larger debt ceiling increase than Republicans previously supported in exchange for unspecified spending cuts.
Earlier this month, the House passed the Limit, Save, Grow Act, a Republican bill that would have cut federal spending, imposed so-called work requirements on federal safety net programs, and allowed the Treasury Department to continue borrowing money until next spring. The bill would lift the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion or until March 31, 2024, whichever comes first.
“I am concerned about rumors to the effect — and I haven’t read or seen anything yet — but rumors that we may have some sort of a deal in place that would raise the debt limit for more than what was called for in Limit, Save, Grow for a whole lot less in return,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.).
“If that were true, that would absolutely collapse the Republican majority for this debt ceiling increase.”
Later on Thursday, Freedom Caucus members sent a letter to McCarthy calling the larger proposed debt ceiling hike “outrageous” and urging the speaker to make new demands for tougher border policy. The letter also suggested a stopgap bill combining spending cuts and a brief postponement of the debt ceiling deadline.
The Freedom Caucus has always insisted that it would accept nothing less than Limit, Save, Grow — even though for an eventual deal to become law, it would have to be acceptable to the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House.
The complaints from the Freedom Caucus, as well as worries among progressives, suggest that a more moderate deal may in fact be taking shape.
Negotiations appeared to be making progress ahead of a looming June 1 deadline to lift the debt ceiling, and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) told reporters that the “issues are narrowing.”
The federal government could default on its debts if lawmakers fail to reach a deal, an outcome that would risk shaking the financial system and pushing the economy into a recession.
Norman and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said they heard McCarthy’s negotiators were now considering an increase of more than $3 trillion, and it wasn’t clear to them that Republicans were getting enough on work requirements or spending cuts in return.
“It’s idiotic for him — for anybody to consider anything [other] than what we have,” Norman said.
Roy said his “antenna is up” over the deal lacking “transformative, substantive fiscal reforms necessary to raise the debt ceiling $4 trillion.”
Meanwhile, conservatives in the Senate also seemed spooked about an emerging deal. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) threatened to block expedited passage of any agreement that didn’t include “substantial” spending cuts.
“I will use every procedural tool at my disposal to impede a debt-ceiling deal that doesn’t contain substantial spending and budgetary reforms,” Lee tweeted Thursday. ”I fear things are moving in that direction. If they do, that proposal will not face smooth sailing in the Senate.”
Any single senator can force a lengthy debate and additional votes on the floor, so Lee’s threat could potentially lead the U.S. over the brink and into default if the Senate doesn’t act by June 1. Moreover, the House has yet to vote on anything, and GOP leadership has promised to give members 72 hours to review a deal before putting it on the floor.
In another sign that a bipartisan agreement may be close, progressives are also getting angsty about leaked negotiation details, including one possible idea to claw back additional funding for the Internal Revenue Service as Republicans had demanded. According to a report by The Associated Press, the IRS funding, which Democrats passed last year so the agency could go after wealthy tax cheats, would instead be shifted to other domestic programs.
“In case anyone had doubts about Republicans’ priorities, at the 11th hour before a catastrophic default, they’re making a last ditch effort to help rich people cheat on their taxes,” tweeted Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore,), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, in response to the AP report.