WASHINGTON − Speaker Kevin McCarthy faces a rebellion from the right flank of his party over his deal with President Joe Biden to suspend the debt ceiling before a crucial vote Wednesday in the House − including a threat to oust him from the speakership.
Several hard-line conservatives who make up the House Freedom Caucus, which has about 45 members, said they won’t vote for the bill, dubbed The Fiscal Responsibility Act. They lambasted McCarthy for agreeing to a compromise they said didn’t go far enough to cut spending and marks a “betrayal” of his commitment to their caucus.
Rep. Dan Bishop, RN.C, said he was considering a push to oust McCarthy over the debt ceiling deal, telling Politico: “It is inescapable to me. It has to be done.” The chair of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., wouldn’t rule out pursuing an ouster.
Many detractors were the same Republicans who initially voted against McCarthy’s speakership in January before rallying behind him in exchange for concessions, some of which were never disclosed.
“In short, tomorrow’s bill is a bunch of fake news and fake talking points and does nothing to rein in out-of-control federal spending,” said Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. a Freedom Caucus member. “If every Republican voted the way that they campaigned, they would vote against tomorrow’s bad deal.”
The intraparty revolt has McCarthy scrambling to hold the middle of the Republican caucus to support the debt ceiling package and avert a default by June 5. It has also raised the pressure on the White House to make sure a majority of Democrats vote for the bill.
Inside the Republican revolt and a ‘reckoning’ to come
The Biden-McCarthy deal would suspend the debt ceiling through the end of 2024 while keeping discretionary spending flat next year and capping spending at a 1% increase in 2025.
“I want to be very clear: Not one Republican should vote for this deal. Not one,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, at a news conference with nine other Freedom Caucus members. “It’s a bad deal. No one sent us here to borrow an additional $4 trillion to get absolutely nothing in return.”
The House Freedom Caucus includes many Republicans elected during the past few election cycles who are aligned with former President Donald Trump and emboldened by what they say is a mandate to upend the DC establishment.
Roy told political commentator Glenn Beck on Tuesday that the deal was a “complete and total sellout” and “a betrayal of the power sharing arrangement” Republicans made with McCarthy to secure his speakership. Many hard-line conservatives are upsetting the debt-ceiling suspension builds off post-pandemic spending levels instead of returning to pre-pandemic spending. “No matter what happened, there will be a reckoning by what just happened,” Roy said.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said the deal “is one of the biggest abominations since I’ve been in Washington, DC” Perry said McCarthy “totally failed to deliver” on holding the line in negotiations with Biden and said his caucus will do “everything in our power to stop it.”
Will McCarthy and Biden have the votes?
After the deal was reached over the weekend, McCarthy initially said 95% of the Republican conference was behind the legislation.
That has proven wildly inaccurate.
McCarthy, appearing on “Fox and Friends” Tuesday morning, said he planned to meet with Freedom Caucus lawmakers and defended the debt ceiling bill by comparing it to past deals passed under Republican control that included no spending cuts at all.
“The president said he wouldn’t even negotiate with us, but we were able to get in there,” McCarthy said. “This is the biggest cut in American history that we (will) vote for.”
By itself, the Freedom Caucus doesn’t have enough votes to stop passage of the bill. But the numbers will get much tighter in the 435-member House for McCarthy if moderate Republicans also balk. In a troubling sign for the speaker, Rep. Nancy Mace, RS.C, who has called herself a “caucus of one” in the House GOP, said she will vote against the legislation.
“Washington is broken. Republicans got outsmarted by a President who can’t find his pants,” Mace said in a tweet Tuesday. “I’m voting NO on the debt ceiling debt because playing the DC game isn’t worth selling out our kids and grandkids.”
The growing number of Republican opponents means that McCarthy and Biden might have to rely on House Democrats to pass the bill. That’s no slam dunk either, either. Democrats in the House Progressive Caucus have criticized the bill for expanding work requirements for food stamps, expediting permitting for oil and gas projects and capping future spending.
“We have deep concerns that all of these are in the deal in different ways,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus. But Jayapal said he wouldn’t be upset if a majority of Democrats voted for the debt ceiling bill. “None of us want the country to go into default”
Biden was optimistic Monday on the prospects of the debt ceiling bill passing Congress. “I feel very good about it,” he told reporters.
Future of McCarthy’s speakership could be at stake
Perry, when asked whether Freedom Caucus members would try to remove McCarthy from the speakership, said he was focused on defeating the bill.
“We will decide once we’ve determined the disposition of the bill and the finality,” he said.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said that if McCarthy failed to get at least half of House Republicans to vote for the debt ceiling bill, and instead relied on Democratic support for passage, then it would be grounds for a motion to vacate McCarthy’s speakership .
“That would immediately be a black-letter violation of the deal we had with McCarthy to allow his ascent to the speakership and it would likely trigger an immediate motion to vacate,” Gaetz said in an interview on Newsmax.
Threats from individual lawmakers carry more weight after McCarthy agreed earlier this year to the Freedom Caucus demands to allow a single member to call for a vote ousting the speaker. A majority of the House would still be needed to oust McCarthy.
Other agreements made by McCarthy to Freedom Caucus members to secure his speakership included giving them committee assignments on key congressional panels like the powerful House Rules Committee, which is tasked with bringing legislation to the House floor.
The House Rules Committee, which was set to take up the bill Tuesday, is made up of nine Republicans and four Democrats, including Freedom Caucus member Reps. Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Roy. Norman and Roy opposed McCarthy’s bid for the speakership earlier this year.
What’s in the debt ceiling bill
In addition to the debt ceiling extension and spending caps, the bill would overhaul the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by setting time limits for how long able-bodied adults 54 years old or younger without dependent children can receive food stamps if they do not meet certain jobs requirements.
The deal contains additional work requirements for recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program but no changes to Medicaid, which Biden said he would not support.
The deal rolls back $10 billion of $80 billion in IRS funding approved in Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act last year that was designed to crack down on wealthy Americans and corporations that evade taxes.
It claws back billions in unspent COVID-19 relief money that was approved by Congress during the Biden and Trump presidencies.
The legislation includes no new tax increasing targeting the wealthy and corporations − which Biden had proposed. Nor does it accept Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act or the student loan forgiveness program, which many Republicans had sought.
Contributing: USA TODAY White House correspondent Francesca Chambers
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kevin McCarthy faces rebellion from House Freedom Caucus over debt deal