McCarthy faces balancing act over debt limit deal

Speaker Kevin McCarthy is attempting a difficult balancing act as he tries to wrest spending concessions from President Biden in exchange for raising the debt ceiling: cobble together a deal that wins most Republican votes without alienating Democrats The critical mass needed to push it through the House.

Far-right Republicans have exacerbated the debt-ceiling standoff by demanding deep spending cuts as a price to avoid default, and they will almost certainly oppose any compromise. That means Mr McCarthy, the California Republican, will need the support of a solid Democrat bloc in the deeply divided Senate.

Political realities weighed on both Republicans and Democrats in debt-limit talks, which continued on Capitol Hill Tuesday without any signs of imminent resolution. Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Biden are weighing a compromise that could cost both the hard left and the right in Congress, meaning they would need to form a coalition of Republicans and centrist Democrats to back any eventual deal to avoid acquiescence. .

The strategy poses significant political risk for Mr McCarthy, who won his job earlier this year after 15 bitterly contested rounds of voting, in part because of his promise to elevate the voices of his most conservative lawmakers – and agreed to vote to remove him immediately at any time. He can afford to lose the conservative vote on the debt ceiling, but he could lose his job if the deal he strikes irritates them too much.

“Most of my conservative colleagues support limit, save, grow, and they think we shouldn’t be negotiating with our hostages,” said Rep. Matt Gates, R-Fla., one of Mr. McCarthy’s leading critics during his tenure. . Fight for Speaker. Mr. Gates was referring to legislation passed by the House of Representatives last month that would cut government programs by an average of 18% over a decade in exchange for raising the debt limit.

This dynamic complicates the task of finding a palatable agreement, placing negotiators on a precarious legislative seesaw. For example, they risk losing too many Democrats if they impose tougher job requirements on public interest programs to win over Republicans. If they compromise with Democrats by rolling back spending cuts, they risk alienating Republicans.

Further complicating the situation is an unwritten but nearly inviolable rule that speakers from both parties have long insisted that any legislation they introduce must win at least the support of a majority of members.

“It’s a complex math,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., one of the negotiators appointed by Mr. McCarthy to lead the talks.

White House and Republican negotiators have been wrestling with the same set of issues — chief among them the duration and size of federal budget cuts — trying to avert economic catastrophe that could arrive as soon as June 1.

The question is whether Mr. McCarthy can negotiate a deal that may be opposed but not attacked by his most conservative lawmakers, many of whom have never voted to raise the debt ceiling before.

“I don’t think precision is the norm, but steadiness is the norm,” said Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., a member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus. “Sometimes negotiators are eager to reach a deal and are not ready to use the leverage they have.”

Pressure from his right wing helps explain the speaker’s sometimes defiant mood during the negotiations, and why Republicans have signaled that no deal is possible until default is truly imminent. Asked on Monday night what would be needed to break the deadlock, Mr McCarthy replied: “June 1.”

Mr McCarthy expressed confidence that whatever deal he negotiated he would have the support of a majority in the conference, although he acknowledged the deal ultimately “wouldn’t solve all the problems” Republicans wanted to solve. He has repeatedly noted that he is focusing the meeting on the only debt ceiling bill passed by Congress this year.

“I strongly believe that what we’re negotiating now, most Republicans will see as the right place to put us on the right path,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Some key conservatives have begun to worry publicly that they are losing some of the political ground they believed they had gained in the debt-limit bill passed by the House in April, which included major elements of rolling back Biden’s signature health, climate and tax laws. Yes To many House Republicans, the bill is the bare minimum they can accept in exchange for raising the state’s borrowing limit.

“There are a lot of people who have put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears for our legislation,” said Rep. Garrett Graves of Louisiana, another of Mr. McCarthy’s negotiators. “What we’re doing at the direction of the spokesperson is trying to protect all the interests in it. We’re trying to be as consistent as possible, recognizing that there’s different common ground on this point.”

Rep. Bob Goode, R-Va., member of the Freedom Caucus, said “the House has no more work to do” and that the Democratic-led Senate needs to pass the House GOP bill if senators want to avoid default.

“Most Republicans never voted to raise the debt ceiling,” Mr. Goode said. “Almost all Republicans didn’t want to vote to raise the debt ceiling. But we came together and raised the debt limit responsibly. Everything in this bill was needed.”

So far, right-wing lawmakers appear content with Mr. McCarthy’s approach. Mr. Goode said he was “doing a good job,” and Mr. Gates said the idea that he could lose his job at any moment has been putting pressure on the California Republican to do the right thing.

“The motion to withdraw by one man gives us the best version of Speaker McCarthy,” Mr. Gates said.

Democrats are also at risk.

In the House and Senate, liberals are hesitant the White House is open to negotiating with Republicans on the idea of ​​imposing tougher work requirements on programs like TANF and food stamps, as well as cutting federal spending. Some progressives have urged Mr. Biden to stop negotiating with Republicans and avoid default by invoking the 14th Amendment.

After Biden and McCarthy met at the White House on Monday night, Democratic leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York complained that House Republicans were trying to impose “extreme proposals” on lawmakers and the public.

“They keep coming back to work requirements, it’s extreme. They keep coming back to 10-year or multi-year spending caps,” Mr Jeffries said. “These are inconsequential things going in the wrong direction.”

Progressive Caucus chairwoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington urged Mr. Biden to follow through on Republican pressure or face a backlash from congressional Democrats and millions of voters.

“The president needs to stay strong, otherwise people will lose confidence that the government cares about them and there will be a backlash,” she said.

Luke Broadwater and stephanie lai Contribution report.

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