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Moderates Team Up on the Debt Ceiling
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Moderates Team Up on the Debt Ceiling

A bipartisan group has agreed on a broad framework while Kevin McCarthy readies his own plan.

Rep. Don Bacon speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on January 10, 2023. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is preparing to put on the House floor a bill that would raise the nation’s borrowing limit while reducing government spending. The idea is to show Republican unity—and pressure President Joe Biden to negotiate over the debt ceiling. Meanwhile, however, some of McCarthy’s fellow Republicans are already working with Democrats on a separate compromise.

“We’re going to work on getting a debt ceiling plan passed out of the House here in two weeks,” Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon said Monday night of McCarthy’s plan. “But we also know that’s just the beginning of negotiations, that’s not the end.”

Bacon said that while “what Kevin’s working on” could get a majority in the House, that doesn’t mean the Democratic Senate and President Biden would agree to it. “If these negotiations fail, we want to have a landing spot where we can still have a compromise and make progress for the country.”

Members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus have negotiated behind the scenes in the past month rather than waiting for their party leaders to come to an agreement. Bacon, a member of the moderate group, told The Dispatch the group has agreed to a debt ceiling framework—but the agreement lacks details. He added that he met with McCarthy on Monday, and the speaker “wasn’t critical” of the effort. 

For now, the group is still deciding how to message and reveal the framework. 

Democrats involved in the Problem Solvers Caucus talks appear willing to tie the debt ceiling increase to some policy changes Republicans want, a position anathema to Biden. Leaders of the two parties have been at a stalemate for months, even as a summer deadline to lift the nation’s $31 trillion borrowing limit looms.

Republicans see the standoff as one of their few chances to exact concessions from Democrats in a divided government. They want to pair government spending cuts and a slew of other policy priorities—expanded oil and gas drilling, more work requirements for social safety net programs, and reclaiming unspent coronavirus relief funds—with the debt ceiling measure. McCarthy’s bill is expected to lift the limit until next year, setting up another showdown before the 2024 presidential election.

But Biden has rejected the idea of negotiating over the debt ceiling, saying he will back only a clean increase in the cap. The U.S. government has already reached that limit, but the Treasury Department has been able to keep paying its bills by moving money around in what’s known as “extraordinary measures” in recent months.

McCarthy on Monday urged Biden to negotiate, describing the nation’s debt as a “ticking time bomb” and criticizing the president for being “missing in action.” He argued that “the longer President Biden waits to be sensible, to find an agreement, the more likely it becomes that this administration will bumble into the first default in our nation’s history.”

A slim Republican House majority complicates the political dynamics. If McCarthy doesn’t fight hard enough for conservative priorities, he could face blowback from some of the members who tried to deny him the speakership earlier this year.

And those members are pledging to push their own ideas: Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, recently said the debt ceiling fight will get “a lot hotter” than the speakership race and GOP leaders will lose right-flank support “if you don’t have upfront, first-year cuts.”

Roy also had tough words for the Problem Solvers Caucus. “If these sons-of-bitches want to try to end-run us, game on,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

Asked about those comments, Bacon said Roy spoke at a Problem Solvers Caucus meeting about a month ago and “he was very collaborative.” Bacon added, “He’s one vote. I’m one vote. We all have the opportunity to speak up and to try to lead the conference.”

McCarthy is hoping to pass his debt ceiling legislation before Congress leaves for a recess at the end of the month, giving GOP leaders just under two weeks to rally their members behind a plan. A few far-right Republicans have suggested they won’t support a debt ceiling increase of any kind. And others from swing districts may push against the new work requirements component of the plan, finding it unpopular among their constituents.

McCarthy appeared well aware of the challenge during an interview on CNBC Monday afternoon. “Five seats,” he quipped when asked about his tight margins. “I don’t know if you watched my speaker’s race—it was kind of close.”

He didn’t provide a clear answer when asked if he will have his party’s support for the GOP debt ceiling legislation: “I think I have the support of America.” 

On the Floor

The House will consider a bill blocking transgender participants from competing in women’s and girl’s sports events held by organizations that receive federal financial assistance. The bill mandates that athletics programs recognize sex “solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”

A full list of bills the House may vote on this week is available here.

The Senate is considering executive appointments.

Key Hearings

  • The House Oversight and Accountability subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic is meeting this morning for a hearing on the origins of the pandemic. Information and livestream here.
  • Robin Dunn Marcos, director of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, is appearing before a House panel this morning for an oversight hearing about unaccompanied children crossing the border. Information and livestream here.
  • Military officials are testifying before the House Armed Services Committee this morning about America’s posture in the Indo-Pacific region. Information and livestream here.
  • A House Homeland Security subcommittee is meeting this morning to examine counterterrorism capabilities in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Information and livestream here.
  • The Congressional-Executive Commission on China is holding a hearing on implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act this morning. Information and video here.
  • NASA Administrator Bill Nelson will testify Tuesday afternoon on the Senate side and Wednesday afternoon on the House side about NASA’s budget request for the upcoming fiscal year. Information and livestream here and here.
  • The House Foreign Affairs Committee will examine Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine during a hearing Wednesday morning. Information and livestream here.
  • The Senate Judiciary will also meet Wednesday morning for a hearing on Russia’s war crimes and human rights abuses in Ukraine. Information and livestream here.

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.