Speaker Kevin McCarthy hunkered down in a mostly desolate Capitol building on Monday to build support for his debt limit compromise, dogged by claims of promises he made to become speaker.
For days, the California Republican has said he could “get to yes” on House passage of a cross-party agreement to prevent the nation from defaulting on its $31.4 trillion in debt. Already, the task is appearing stickier than simply rounding up enough floor votes to pass the deal he struck over the weekend with President Joe Biden.
With a passage vote set for Wednesday, a few Republicans have suggested using the Rules Committee to block the 99-page package from making it to the floor. And Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) further hinted at that strategy Monday afternoon.
The Texas Republican said on Twitter that an “explicit” agreement was made during private negotiations in January to elect McCarthy to the speakership: No bill could get to the floor without “unanimous” Republican support on the Rules Committee, on which Roy serves.
Any holdups like a delay in teeing up House floor debate would cost leaders precious time in clearing the bill through both chambers before the expected deadline for maxing out the nation’s borrowing authority. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s latest forecast pegs that X-date as June 5, now just a week away.
Republicans working to rally support for the bill are already casting doubt on Roy’s claim of a secret promise.
“If those conversations took place, the rest of the conference was unaware of them. And frankly, I doubt that,” Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) told reporters at the Capitol on Monday.
“I’m a rules guy. When somebody tells me something has to happen a certain way, the first thing I do is get out the rule book,” Johnson said. “And when I checked, there wasn’t a rule that something has to come out of the Rules Committee unanimously.”
While McCarthy spent Memorial Day working to build consensus from his Capitol suite, Biden administration leaders tried at the same time to rally support for the deal among Democrats. In a series of virtual meetings Monday afternoon, top White House officials briefed lawmakers on pieces of the package that have drawn the most ire among their own, including changes to energy policy, spending limits and increased work requirements for antipoverty programs.
White House budget director Shalanda Young has been reminding lawmakers that the ultimate goal in negotiations was to avoid a debt default and that striking a bipartisan compromise makes it easier to fund the government for the fiscal year that kicks off in October.
Besides waiving the debt limit beyond the 2024 presidential election, the legislation would essentially freeze non-defense funding for the upcoming fiscal year while increasing defense funding by about 3.5 percent. “That’s about on par with previous budget agreements,” Young said on NBC’s “The Today Show,” noting her experience in negotiating prior bipartisan spending deals in her decades as a top House appropriators aide.
“This deal was compromise,” Young said. “Neither side gets everything they want.”
Even though the debt limit package would lock in spending limits for the fiscal year that starts in October, Republican lawmakers are already talking about negotiating further cuts in the coming months.
“This is the beginning,” Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) told reporters on Monday. “We’ve certainly wanted to see additional cuts in spending. Whether we can get that across the finish line through the appropriations process, it remains to be seen.”
The Congressional Budget Office gave Republicans an initial estimate Monday of the debt limit package’s potential effect on federal spending, predicting that it would cut about $2.1 trillion if funding caps are followed for six years, according to lawmakers.
The goal is for there to be a passage vote Wednesday.