U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has begun a concerted effort to persuade his Republican colleagues to approve a $1.5 trillion rise in the nation’s debt ceiling, despite early indications of a mutiny in his slim majority.
McCarthy faces the toughest test of his young speakership with a bill he hopes to pass in the House of Representatives next week — a measure that rankles some in his rank-and-file by authorizing more government debt. He is trying to couple it with rigid new spending controls.
It is his first opportunity at a deal with Democratic President Joe Biden, whose party also controls the U.S. Senate. If the divided Congress fails to raise the federal government’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, the country risks a default that would rock the US and global economy.
“We’re in very good shape. We just rolled it out yesterday. We’re working, talking through all the members,” McCarthy told reporters on Thursday.
Financial markets are already concerned about the deadlock, with the cost of insuring exposure to US debt reaching decade-high and financial analysts raising concerns about the increased danger of default.
Several House Republicans expressed qualms about the proposal on Thursday or acknowledged a difficult road ahead on a package unlikely to attract Democratic backing.
U.S. Representative Don Bacon, a Republican from Nebraska, told reporters he supports the legislation but said if the vote were held on Thursday, it might not pass, as some in the caucus are “struggling” with it.
It is not unusual for members of Congress to sometimes withhold their support for the legislation to win concessions. That does not mean that in the end, they will defy their leadership.
McCarthy faces an arduous path as he can lose only five votes from his razor-thin 222-member majority to pass legislation if Democrats remain united in opposition. It took him 15 rounds of voting in January to win the speakership, a sign of the dissension within the caucus about his leadership.
His bill would have to win over at least three camps of doubters: Those who think it does not go far enough in taming federal deficits; those who believe it will hurt their constituents, and those who have not voted for a debt limit increase before and might never in the future.
“There are just some concerns that there’s no plan to balance the budget… in any time frame, and this is an opportunity to do that,” said Representative Nancy Mace, who added that she is concerned that proposals to roll back some total tax credits related to solar energy could harm her South Carolina constituents.
Hardline conservative Representative Chip Roy, who is on the powerful House Rules Committee that is the gatekeeper of all legislation, told reporters he was weighing whether the spending cuts were “robust enough.”
Representative Tim Burchett of Tennessee, who represents a district that includes Knoxville, which has a poverty rate of roughly 21%, raised concern about a provision restricting eligibility for the SNAP food stamp program.
Burchett added, “The most important thing to me is reducing debt. That’s going to sink us.”
The White House criticized McCarthy’s plan as draconian. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “MAGA House Republicans are holding the American economy hostage to take a hatchet to programs Americans rely on daily to make ends meet.”
Bacon said that if House Republicans fail to pass this bill, “There’s going to be a lot of pressure to just capitulate” to Democrats who demand a “clean” increase in borrowing authority without spending cuts attached.
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