House Republican Kevin McCarthy’s numerous concessions to the most right-wing members of his conference risk setting the House of Representatives and Congress up for a series of crises over the next two years.
At the top of the list is the US debt ceiling, which far-right lawmakers may hold hostage to extract policy concessions and spending cuts, while endangering the full faith and credit of the US and global economy.
Mr McCarthy and Republican leadership released its proposed rules package on Friday evening ahead of another round of votes to elect a speaker of the House. This came after 14 Republicans who had previously voted against Mr McCarthy flipped their votes to support him during the 13th ballot.
Opponents of Mr McCarthy becoming speaker have often listed federal spending and the recent passage of the omnibus government funding bill in December as their major concerns.
The proposed rules package would impose a “cut-as-you-go” measure, which would prohibit the consideration of legislation that increases mandatory spending within a five-year or 10-year budget window.
In addition, it also repeals the so-called “Gephardt Rule,” wherein the House automatically sends a joint resolution to raise the debt ceiling when the House adopts a budget package. That would set up a separate vote on the debt limit, which addresses money the government has already spent and not future spending. Defaulting on the debt would risk an economic crisis in the US and around the globe.
“They're going to say that unless they have very steep spending cuts in domestic programs, they won't, they won't vote for it,” Democratic Representative Jerry Nadler of New York warned of a looming debt ceiling fight. “That's the only thing. That's the blackmail.”
Representative-elect Maxwell Frost of Florida told The Independent that it could lead to dangerous cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“That's the goal of the Freedom Caucus and that's why they've been holding this hostage,” Mr Frost said.
Representative Scott Perry, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told The Independent that conservatives like himself have long worried about spending and the debt limit. The United States is set to hit the debt limit later this year.
“These are concerns of ours and they have been for a long time and we're tired of getting them jammed down our throat,” he said. “We feel like the framework at this point addresses them adequately and as long as everybody is in agreement that we can proceed together forward.”
Mr Perry initially voted against Mr McCarthy but changed his vote to support the GOP leader during the 13th ballot. Similarly, Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina said this would lead to cuts to correspond with raising the debt limit.
“You gotta have made fun of my cuts in any kind of plan that we have,” Mr Norman told The Independent. “In this small majority, they need us.”
But the rules package might alienate some Republicans who are not as staunchly conservative. Representative Tony Gonzales of Texas, an ally of Mr McCarthy’s, tweeted his opposition.
I am a NO on the house rules package. Welcome to the 118th Congress.
— Tony Gonzales (@TonyGonzales4TX) January 7, 2023
“I am a NO on the house rules package,” Mr Gonzales tweeted. “Welcome to the 118th Congress.”
The opposition from some Republicans could be enough to defeat the rules package, given Democratic opposition.
But Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, a moderate Republican from a district that voted for Joe Biden, defended the rules package and said I didn’t know that Mr Gonzales said he opposed it.
“I mean, the rules package, we negotiated this,” he told The Independent. “I think it's an encompasses in everyone the conference, so I didn't know that.”
Democrats, meanwhile, are slamming the McCarthy defectors’ hardline stance.
McCarthy just agreed to a deal with far right insurrectionists that would hold the entire US and global economy hostage to extreme cuts to everything from housing to education, healthcare, Social Security and Medicare.
Hard to overstate how dangerous this is.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) January 6, 2023
“McCarthy just agreed to a deal with far right insurrectionists that would hold the entire US and global economy hostage to extreme cuts to everything from housing to education, healthcare, Social Security and Medicare,” Representative Ilhan Omar tweeted. “Hard to overstate how dangerous this is.”