GOP conservatives shutter House to protest McCarthy-Biden debt deal
WASHINGTON — In fallout from the debt ceiling deal, Speaker Kevin McCarthy is suddenly confronting a new threat to his power as angry hard-right conservatives bring the House chamber to a halt, reviving their displeasure over the compromise struck with President Joe Biden and demanding deeper spending cuts ahead.
Barely a dozen Republicans, mainly members of the House Freedom Caucus, shuttered House business for a second day Thursday in protest of McCarthy’s leadership. Routine votes could not be taken, and a pair of pro-gas stove bills important to GOP activists stalled out. Some lawmakers asked if they could simply go home.
McCarthy brushed off the disruption as healthy political debate, part of his “risk taker” way of being a leader — not too different, he said, from the 15-vote spectacle it took in January for him to finally convince his colleagues to elect him as speaker. With a paper-thin GOP majority, any few Republicans have outsized sway.
But the aftermath of the debt ceiling deal is coming into focus: The hard-right flank that helped put the speaker in power five months ago is not done with McCarthy yet.
“I enjoy this conflict,” the speaker bantered Wednesday at the Capitol, saying he feels like Goldilocks being pushed from all sides. “Conflict makes you stronger if you deal with it.”
At its core, the standoff between the House conservatives and the speaker revolves around the budget levels McCarthy agreed to in the debt-ceiling bill with Biden that the right flank of his conference strenuously opposed. The agreement restricted spending, but not as much as the Freedom Caucus and others demanded. Unable to stop the debt bill’s passage last week, the conservatives are now digging in and preparing for a longer fight to prevent it from taking hold.
It’s all setting the stage for a potentially disastrous showdown ahead, when Congress will need to pass spending bills to fund the government at the levels set by the McCarthy-Biden debt package, or risk a shutdown in federal government operations when the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
The test will likely come even sooner, this summer, when the Biden administration is expected to ask Congress to approve supplemental funding for Ukraine to fight the war against Russia. It’s an issue that splits the Republicans between those who want to cut budgets and those insisting on a strong military.
Aligning with the defense hawks, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell raised his own concerns Wednesday about the cap on military spending: “I’m not sure at this point how to fix it, but it’s a problem, a serious problem.”
While the conservatives have aired a long list of grievances, the debt deal looms largest.
The McCarthy-Biden compromise set overall federal budget caps — holding spending flat for 2024, and with a 1% growth for 2025 — and Congress still needs to pass appropriations bills to fund the various federal agencies at the agreed-to amounts. That’s typically done by Oct. 1. After Biden signed the debt deal into law last weekend, lawmakers have been fast at work on the agency-spending bills ahead of votes this summer to meet the deadline.