As a result of the debt ceiling agreement, Speaker Kevin McCarthy suddenly faces a new threat to his power as angry far-right conservatives shut down the House of Representatives, rekindling their discontent with the compromise reached with President Joe Biden and demanding deeper spending cuts. forthcoming
Barely a dozen Republicans, mostly members of the House Freedom Caucus, adjourned the House on the second day Thursday in protest of McCarthy’s leadership. Regular ballots could not be held, and a couple of gas stove bills important to GOP activists stalled. Some lawmakers asked if they could just go home.
McCarthy shrugged off the breakdown, calling it a healthy political debate, part of his “risky” way of being a leader – not too different, he says, from the 15-vote spectacle it took him in January to finally convince his colleagues to elect him. as Speaker With the GOP’s paper majority, any few Republicans have undue influence.
But the focus is on the consequences of the debt ceiling deal: The far-right wing that helped the speaker to power five months ago is not over with McCarthy yet.
“I love this conflict,” the speaker joked at the Capitol Wednesday, saying he feels like Goldilocks being pushed from all sides. “Conflict makes you stronger if you deal with it.”
At its core, the standoff between the Conservatives in the House and the Speaker revolves around the budget levels that McCarthy agreed with Biden in the debt ceiling bill, which was strongly opposed by his conference’s right. The agreement limited spending, but not as much as the Liberty Caucus and others demanded. Unable to stop the passage of the debt bill last week, conservatives are now digging into a longer fight to prevent it from being passed.
All of this sets the stage for a potentially catastrophic showdown ahead when Congress needs to pass spending bills to fund the government at the level set by the McCarthy-Biden debt package, or risk shutting down federal government operations when the new fiscal year begins. October 1.
The test is likely to come even earlier this summer, when the Biden administration is expected to ask Congress to approve additional funding for Ukraine to wage war against Russia. It’s a question that divides Republicans between those who want to cut the budget and those who insist on a strong military.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday expressed his concerns about the military spending cut: “I’m not sure how to fix it yet, but it’s a problem, a serious problem.”
While the Conservatives have put forward a long list of grievances, the debt deal appears to be the largest.
The McCarthy-Biden Compromise set overall federal budget caps — spending at 2024 levels and growing 1% by 2025 — and Congress still needs to pass appropriation bills to fund various federal agencies in agreed amounts. This is usually done by October. 1. After Biden signed the debt deal bill into law last weekend, lawmakers accelerated work on agency spending bills ahead of a vote this summer to meet the deadline.
Conservatives not only objected to the Biden deal as insufficient, but also argued that it violated the terms of the agreement they reached with McCarthy to cut spending even further, to 2022 levels, to make him Speaker.
“There was an agreement in January,” Ken Buck, of Colorado, told reporters after he left the speaker’s office Wednesday morning. “And that was violated in the debt ceiling bill.”
McCarthy insists that the deal he struck during the speaker race to cut spending through 2022 was not a guaranteed outcome, only a goal. In addition, there is a provision in the debt deal that will automatically return spending to 2022 levels if Congress fails to pass all funding bills by January.
“We never promised that we would all be at the 22 level – I said we would aim to reach the 22 level or equivalent,” McCarthy said on Wednesday. “We met all of those criteria.”
McCarthy also said he’s not opposed to more funding for Ukraine, but he wants to see what’s needed and not just agree to lift the spending caps he negotiated with Biden that have just been signed into law.
Democrats watching the aftermath of the debt ceiling deal are mindful of the challenges ahead.
“I think it will be hard,” said the deputy. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut is the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
“You have a whole bunch of people who want to cut costs,” she said of the Republicans. “Potentially, they could delay appropriations.”
If Congress fails to pass spending bills by the fall, it could lead to the shutdown of the federal government — an outcome that conservatives have repeatedly sought since the Clinton era, when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich led the House of Representatives to a budget impasse, and again in 2013. when the conservatives shut down the government when they tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The longest federal government shutdown in history came during the Trump era, when Congress denied him funding to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
For now, McCarthy and his team of leaders just need to figure out how to get the House back in session.
The bills tabled this week were not the most important on the agenda, but are popular with Republicans and carry important political messages, even if they have no chance of becoming law.
Among them are a couple of gas stove bills, including one that would ban the use of federal funds to regulate gas stoves as a dangerous product.
House action came to a sudden halt Tuesday afternoon when a group of Conservatives refused to support a regular procedural vote to set rules for the afternoon’s debate scheduling. It was the first time in 20 years that the routine voting on the rules was defeated.
Associated Press writers Kevin Fracking, Stephen Groves, Mary Claire Jalonik, and Farnoush Amiri contributed.
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