Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his House GOP allies are laying out their initial demands Raise the national debt ceilingDebating steep cuts to domestic programs and slashing defense spending — always avoid two programs to avoid voter backlash: Medicare and Social Security.
As he prepares for his first face-to-face meeting with President Joe Biden on Wednesday, McCarthy has been seeking advice from key players in his briefings, even as White House officials insist they won’t negotiate with House Republicans on the congressional demand. Raise the $31.4 trillion borrowing limit and avoid a possible first debt default this summer.
For McCarthy, the challenge will be balancing the interests of House Republicans Eager to use their influence Finding a deal with Democrats to implement priorities ignored by the White House and Senate — on the debt ceiling — but not yielding to their demands. Hanging on it all: A member’s ability to vote to oust McCarthy as speaker.
It’s a recipe that — some fear — could drive the nation to the brink of a catastrophic default, especially as some positions against raising the cap seem intractable.
“No,” said the Rev. Greg Pence, an Indiana Republican, said when asked by CNN if he would vote for a debt ceiling increase if it included “every” priority. “That’s what I hear at home.”
While McCarthy hasn’t settled on any personal plan and is unlikely to make a specific offer at Wednesday’s meeting, he and other House Republicans reject the White House’s stance outright, which, despite three pauses, aims to raise the debt ceiling with no strings attached while President Donald Trump aims to pay bills that have already been paid. was
“I don’t think (Biden) wants to be reckless and childish and not sit down and negotiate, especially when you think about the changes in our country’s economy,” McCarthy told reporters Monday. “So here we have a timeline, let’s sit down and not play political games. We both know we have some standing to do and figure out where to save the American people.
Privately, Republicans have floated a variety of ideas in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, including curbing domestic spending in fiscal year 2019 and cutting defense programs to 2023 spending levels that GOP sources say — one that budget experts estimate — is $1.7 trillion. Over the next decade.
But Democrats see such cuts as draconian, and some Republicans say they don’t go far enough.
While House Republicans are looking to strengthen their negotiating hand with the White House, by uniting around a plan, it will be easier to find a conference-wide consensus on spending cuts. Republican incumbents are promising to protect defense programs and GOP moderates are struggling to cut popular domestic spending programs, all of which could be easy fodder for Democratic attack ads.
“You’re always going to have some people who vote ‘no’ on everything. So expect those people to be there,” said Rep. Nancy Mays, Republican of South Carolina. “That’s why it’s important to negotiate. We are a divided Congress and we have to act that way.
Speaking to CBS on Sunday, McCarthy promised to take Social Security and Medicare programs “off the table.” And he left open the possibility of cuts to defense programs: “I want to make sure we’re protected in our defense spending, but I want to make sure it’s effective and efficient.”
By avoiding cuts to entitlement programs, Republicans can’t achieve the level of deficit savings that conservatives want.
In fact, Social Security accounted for about 21% of the $5.8 trillion the federal government spent last fiscal year, while health care programs — such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Child Health Insurance Program and Affordable Care Act subsidies — accounted for about 25%. Budget according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The rest of the budget goes to discretionary domestic projects, including 13% for defense and national security.
“Heck no,” said the rep. Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican and Freedom Caucus member, said when asked about potential cuts to entitlements.
Behind the scenes, Republicans are urging McCarthy to take a firm stand against the White House.
The 20 House Republicans who initially voted against McCarthy for the speakership hope to play a key role in the debate after the speaker made the debt ceiling a centerpiece of negotiations. As part of those talks, according to a slide presentation obtained by CNN, McCarthy indicated he would not take a debt ceiling increase without “fiscal reforms” or a budget deal.
Conservatives met Friday morning and Monday to discuss ideas for spending cuts that could achieve a balanced budget within 10 years, and plan to release a map outlining their vision in the coming weeks, a member of the talks said.
Representative of Texas. The group’s ringleaders, such as Chip Roy, have continued to communicate with McCarthy, and the group wants to meet with GOP leaders and House Budget Chairman Jody Arrington of Texas.
Even the most hardline conservatives say they don’t plan to propose cuts to Social Security or Medicare — something Trump has been encouraging Republicans not to do — and insist their plan focuses only on the discretionary side of spending.
“We’ll have a blueprint of what we’re going to fight for,” South Carolina Representative Ralph Norman, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, told CNN. “Don’t touch Social Security, don’t touch Medicare… Each agency is looked at on its own merits. We’re going to release it for the American people. And it shocks people. … I think people will like what they see.”
Representative from Kentucky. Thomas Massey, a libertarian-leaning Republican, acknowledged that cuts to entitlement programs would be a nonstarter in the Senate.
“It’s an important thing,” Massey told reporters. “What can you do here to pass the Senate and sign the President? Why do you start a debate and let people destroy what you are trying to do when there is no positive outcome?
Still, GOP defense hawks and incumbents promise to protect defense spending, which keeps money on the discretionary side of the budget.
As McCarthy tries to build a conference-wide consensus on what they would propose in exchange for raising the nation’s debt ceiling, some owners admit they will end up on the sidelines of the debate.
“We’ll get (the spending number first) to my subcommittee because I’ll either be the beneficiary or the victim,” Rep. Chuck Fleischman of Tennessee, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, told CNN. . “I will be directly affected.”
“I wouldn’t say I’m worried, but I’m watching the process and we’ll adjust accordingly,” he added.
To complicate matters further, some Republicans, such as Pence, Reps. Tim Burchett of Tennessee and Andy Biggs of Arizona, have signaled that they will not raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances.
However, other Republicans disagreed.
“I think everybody is in the ‘can’t default’ camp. The country’s overall confidence and credit is important, very important,” said Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, a member of the House Budget Committee. “But saying we’re going to raise the debt ceiling without any spending controls is not an acceptable outcome.”
In his quest to become speaker, McCarthy promised to put a bill on the floor by the end of March that would direct the Treasury Department which payments should be prioritized if the debt ceiling is breached — essentially an emergency plan.
Massey said one idea he is advocating is passing a continuing resolution “as soon as possible” that would fund the government at 99% of its current levels and tie it to an increase in the debt ceiling so they would have a backup plan. No agreement could be reached on the debt ceiling or financing the government.
“I want us to be adults in the room. We have two things that could be a crisis,” Massey told reporters. “Take that off the table. … It gives you time and space, and it takes the pressure off.
Others are also looking at possible contingency plans. The House’s bipartisan problem-solving committee is working on a proposal to set a ratio of allowable U.S. debt relative to the nation’s gross domestic product and plan for budget cuts if that level is exceeded. The committee is consulting budget experts to help prepare the proposal.
Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican who was involved in the effort, said the plan would be a setback if talks between the White House and McCarthy collapse.
“Everybody has to compromise,” Fitzpatrick said.