Politics

Conservatives threaten last-ditch Rules rebellion over debt deal

Kevin McCarthy likely has enough votes from both parties to pass his debt plan on the floor. That is, if he can get it there.

Lawmakers have returned to Washington for a vote on McCarthy’s bipartisan deal with President Joe Biden to avert an economy-shattering default, with the legislation set to come to the floor on Wednesday. As McCarthy works to lock down the 218 votes needed for passage, though, he also must navigate a major procedural hurdle — pitting him against some of the most vocal conservatives in his party.

The powerful House Rules Committee will take up the bipartisan debt deal on Tuesday afternoon, requiring a simple majority of at least seven votes on the panel to come to the floor. But some conservatives, including Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a committee member, are signaling they may use their power on that panel to block the debt plan from receiving a full House vote.

And more opposition could come Tuesday afternoon, when members of the Freedom Caucus are slated to hold a press conference to express their contempt for the negotiated deal.

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), another conservative Rules member, told POLITICO on Tuesday that he’d like to consider amendments to the bill during the afternoon panel meeting, but he plans to use his position to block the bill from coming to the floor.

“I don’t know what else they could could offer,” Norman said, referring to potential amendments. He later added: “I’m going to do what’s in the best interest and this bill is not in the best interest of the country. That is why Democrats are voting for it.”

Conservatives didn’t always have that kind of clout on the Rules panel. In fact, after McCathy’s white-knuckled fight for the speakership in January, one of McCarthy’s concessions was to bring more ideological diversity to House Rules, which decides what legislation gets a vote on the floor. The California Republican ultimately added three new conservatives, including two House Freedom Caucus members, to the roster: Roy, Norman and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).

Those three House conservatives haven’t yet explicitly said how they might vote at the Rules panel later Tuesday afternoon. Under the panel’s current makeup, Rules Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) can lose two GOP votes — along with all four Democratic votes — and still advance the bill.

Democrats, who have four members on the Rules panel, aren’t expected to help bail Republicans out, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the panel’s top Democrat, had strongly opposed the inclusion of stricter work requirements for some food aid programs and has lambasted Republicans’ handling of the debt negotiations. He hasn’t publicly weighed in on the package yet.

McCarthy predicted to reporters that the bill would be “fine,” when asked over the weekend about a potential snag in the Rules Committee. And he sought to underscore that those who do oppose the bill are a small minority of his overall House GOP conference: “This is a good, strong bill that a majority of Republicans will vote for.”

Still, Roy has signaled that he is looking closely at the panel’s powers on the debt bill, as he openly criticizes the bipartisan agreement.

In a tweet Monday, Roy suggested that McCarthy’s team had told him that the GOP-controlled Rules panel would not advance a bill “without unanimous Republican votes,” though he offered no evidence of that agreement with the speaker, and McCarthy allies have publicly questioned his assertion.

“A reminder that during Speaker negotiations to build the coalition, that it was explicit both that nothing would pass Rules Committee without AT LEAST 7 GOP votes — AND that the Committee would not allow reporting out rules without unanimous Republican votes,” Roy tweeted.

And in a radio interview on Tuesday, Roy appeared to directly link the fate of the debt bill to McCarthy’s speakership. Roy didn’t mention the California Republican by name, but said if he isn’t able to prevent the legislation from passing then “we’re going to have to then regroup and figure out the whole [House GOP] leadership arrangement again.”

Massie, meanwhile, highlighted over the weekend how the deal could give Republicans more leverage in government funding talks later this year, but did not say how he would vote. Part of the agreement includes a plan, which Massie advocated for, that would require a one percent spending cut if Congress doesn’t pass a plan to fund the government by Oct. 1.

Massie also pushed back on accusations that he had criticized the agreement, adding in a Sunday tweet: “I haven’t blasted this deal. Section 102 is a version of the Massie Plan. 72 hours to read a bill is an eternity compared to what we’ve been given in the past. Less than 100 pages is somewhat of a miracle.”

People close to GOP leadership have expressed confidence they will lock down the support before Wednesday’s vote, with dozens of Democrats expected to help carry the bill across the finish line.

Still, some of McCarthy’s GOP allies, including Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-Texas), have publicly opposed the bill.

One House GOP lawmaker, granted anonymity to speak candidly, questioned how Republican leadership could possibly get a “better outcome” than the deal McCarthy and his allies negotiated. They voiced frustration that the opposing conservatives could lead the party to a worse result if they successfully blocked it.

“What do they think the outcome will be if they are successful in killing the debt limit deal? It’s obviously going to be a clean debt limit, right?” that member said.

Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.

At least one appears to be calling into question whether members would attempt to oust Kevin McCarthy for the speakership, should the bipartisan legislation pass the House.  

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