Kevin McCarthy still doesn't have the votes for House Speaker, and he's not going to.
House Republicans are plotting tactics for their new majority and weighing how to use their leverage to enact a laundry list of demands, with many zeroing in on an issue with enormous economic implications: Raising the nation’s borrowing limit.
It’s an issue confronting House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is rounding up the votes to win the House speaker race and facing pressure from some of his colleagues to more forcefully detail how he plans to handle the sensitive topic before they decide whether to support him on January 3 for the most powerful position in Congress.
In interviews with CNN, more than two dozen House GOP lawmakers laid out their demands to avoid the nation’s first-ever debt default, ranging from new immigration policies to imposing deep domestic spending cuts. And several Republicans flatly said they would oppose raising the borrowing limit even if all their demands were met, making McCarthy’s narrow path even narrower.
“I’m a no, no matter what,” Rep. Tim Burchett, a Tennessee Republican, said of raising the debt ceiling.
Despite Congress suspending the nation’s borrowing limit three times when Donald Trump was president, even under all-GOP control of Washington, lawmakers say it is highly uncertain how the matter will be dealt with in a divided Congress next year – reminiscent of the furious battles between House Republicans and Barack Obama’s White House that put the country on the brink of economic disaster.
For McCarthy, the debt ceiling debate will represent one of his most difficult balancing acts if he’s elected speaker: He would need to work with Senate Democrats and President Joe Biden to cut a deal and avoid economic catastrophe without angering his emboldened right flank for caving into the left. And unlike other bills in the GOP House that will die in the Democratic-led Senate, a debt ceiling increase is one of the few must-pass items awaiting the new Congress – something many Republicans see as critical leverage.
Some Republicans say it is incumbent upon McCarthy to spell out his strategy on the issue before they decide if they will support him in the speakership race – when the California Republican can only afford to lose four GOP votes. In one private meeting with a member of the House Freedom Caucus, McCarthy was urged to take a harder public stance on the coming policy issues for next year, according to a person familiar with the matter.
“Several (House Freedom Caucus) members have made spending a main issue,” one GOP lawmaker who has been critical of McCarthy told CNN.
Rep. Scott Perry, the leader of the hardline Freedom Caucus, confirmed it’s an issue that has been broached with McCarthy as he has been wooing members ahead of next month’s vote.
“Debt ceiling has been a conversation that has been perennial in every single conversation or meeting around here since I’ve been here,” the Pennsylvania Republican said in an interview.
But some moderate Republicans – whom McCarthy needs to protect in order to keep their fragile majority in 2024 – have expressed uneasiness over using the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip, risking both a catastrophic default and the political blame, especially if Republicans push for cuts to popular entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. Republicans remember 2011 all too well when a proposal from then-Rep. Paul Ryan to overhaul Medicare became fodder for attacks that depicted him rolling an elderly lady in a wheelchair off a cliff.
“We shouldn’t put the United States in a position to default on our debt, clearly,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican. “But I also think every member of Congress needs to acknowledge that the $32 trillion debt is not in our national interest.”
To recap, House Republicans want to destroy America's credit and immediately push us into a deep recession with a debt default, or force massive spending cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Several of them want to replace the "or" with "and".
And that's if McCarthy becomes Speaker, which again...seems incredibly unlikely.