Speaker Kevin McCarthy has cleared yet another hurdle for his bipartisan debt deal with President Joe Biden: fending off a last-ditch conservative rebellion on the House Rules Committee.
As lawmakers returned to Washington to avert an economy-rattling default this week, McCarthy and his allies worked to lock down the 218 votes needed for passage. After the threat of conservatives on the House Rules panel trying to tank the bill, the package came through unscathed and will head to the House floor Wednesday.
“I’m glad we had 3 days to read this because it took me 2.5 to get to yes,” conservative Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said Tuesday night at a rowdy GOP Conference meeting about the debt deal.
Massie was a pivotal vote in favor of the rule. If he had joined Reps. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) in voting against the rule, the conservative trio could have tanked it.
“When people want to express their ideology, the floor of the House on the actual final passage of the bill is the place to do that,” Massie said.
The House Rules Committee advanced the bipartisan debt deal to the floor in a 7-6 vote launching the bill to the House floor, as the effort by Roy and Norman to block the debt plan from a full House vote fell apart.
The Rules panel approved a “closed” rule, meaning no amendments were made in order for the full chamber to alter the bill.
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 Massie.
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Democrats, who have four members on the Rules panel, were not going to bail the leadership-aligned Republicans out if Massie had been a no vote. 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.
“This is not a happy day,” McGovern said at Tuesday’s hearing before rattling off a number of concerns with the legislation.
Other Democrats were still assessing their options on the bill. Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told reporters Tuesday her roughly 100-member group was currently in the process of hearing out lawmakers’ concerns before leaders take a formal position, though she acknowledged the vote would be a “tough decision” for Democrats. The “chief pro” of the bill was that it hiked the debt limit, she said, though liberals were concerned about provisions like increased “red tape” for nutrition programs and the greenlighting of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project.
McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday that he was not concerned about chatter that the deal could spark a conservative rebellion to come after his job.
“If you think I failed you, I’m sorry. But if you think I failed, I think you’re wrong,” he told his conference in a closed-door meeting Tuesday night just before the Rules Committee vote.
McCarthy met with conservatives on Tuesday, including House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) and Massie. But the California Republican has continuously defended the deal, arguing that Republicans got “major victories” despite controlling neither the Senate or the White House.
“The largest cut in the history of Congress, the biggest ability to pull money back, we’ve got work requirements. … Tell me again what did the Democrats put in it? I couldn’t remember what that was,” McCarthy said, adding that “it is an easy vote for Republicans to vote for it.
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.
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 over one hundred Democrats expected to help carry the bill across the finish line.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a press conference Tuesday that Republicans have privately promised they will deliver the votes from two-thirds of their conference — roughly 150 members — on the deal when it comes to the floor.
Still, some of McCarthy’s GOP allies, including Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-Texas), have publicly opposed the bill. And conservatives are calling on their colleagues to oppose the bill, saying they expect it won’t get support from even half the conference.
“This bill, if it passes, must pass with less than half of the Republican conference,” Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) told reporters on Tuesday. Then he delivered a message to his colleagues: “This is the moment now.”
Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.
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