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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Joan E Greve in Washington

US debt ceiling: Republican hard-right vows to ‘do everything in our power’ to oppose bill

Scott Perry and members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus
Scott Perry and members of the Freedom Caucus. The caucus has vowed to oppose Kevin McCarthy’s debt ceiling deal when it comes before Congress. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus have attacked the proposed spending cuts in the debt ceiling bill as woefully inadequate, and vowed to oppose the legislation when it hits the floor.

“We had the time to act, and this deal fails – fails completely,” Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, chair of the Freedom Caucus, said on Tuesday. “We will do everything in our power to stop it and end it now.”

The House is expected to hold a final vote on the bill on Wednesday, while other members of the Freedom Caucus continue to denounce the compromise brokered by the Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy, and President Joe Biden over the weekend.

The compromise bill, formally named the Fiscal Responsibility Act, would suspend the debt ceiling until 2025, allowing the US to avoid a default that could reap devastating consequences on the American economy. The treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, has warned that the federal government will be unable to pay its bills starting on 5 June unless Congress takes action.

In addition to the debt ceiling suspension, the bill includes government spending cuts and expanded work requirements demanded by McCarthy.

“There has been a lot of hard work and a lot of late nights that have gone into changing the spending trajectory in this town,” Steve Scalise, the House majority leader, told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday night. “For once in a long, long time, Washington is actually going to spend less money next year than it is this year, and that’s a reform that all of us can support.”

Republican Steve Scalise speaks in support of the US debt ceiling deal on Tuesday
Republican Steve Scalise speaks in support of the US debt ceiling deal on Tuesday. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Republicans on the House rules committee voted late on Tuesday to advance the bill, clearing the way for a final vote on Wednesday.

During that hearing, two Freedom Caucus members who sit on the panel, Chip Roy of Texas and Ralph Norman of South Carolina, attempted to block the legislation from advancing, but they were outnumbered by their colleagues. The final vote in the rules committee was 7-6 to advance the bill, with four Democrats joining Roy and Norman in opposing the measure.

“The Republican conference right now has been torn asunder,” Roy said ahead of the hearing. “Not one Republican should vote for this deal. It is a bad deal.”

But the Republican chair of the rules committee, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, defended the bill as the party’s best possible option with Democrats in control of the White House and the Senate.

“Today’s bill is a product of compromise that reflects the realities of a divided government,” Cole said at the hearing. “In a true negotiation, you always get less than you want and give up more than you’d like.”

Despite reassurances from McCarthy and his allies, it remains unclear how many House Republicans will support the proposal. In addition to the Freedom Caucus, some of the more centrist members of the House Republican conference like representatives Nancy Mace of South Carolina and Wesley Hunt of Texas said they would vote against the bill.

Dan Bishop of North Carolina, a member of the Freedom Caucus, predicted that most of the House Republican conference would oppose the legislation, forcing McCarthy to rely on Democrats to pass the bill.

House Freedom Caucus member Chip Roy is surrounded by reporters after announcing he will oppose a deal to raise the debt limit
The House Freedom Caucus member Chip Roy is surrounded by reporters after announcing he will oppose a deal to raise the debt limit. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“This is a career-defining vote for every Republican,” Bishop said Tuesday. “This bill, if it passes, must pass with less than half of the Republican conference.”

The House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, underscored the reality that Republicans must provide most of the 218 votes needed to get the bill approved.

“This is an agreement that, at their insistence, they negotiated with the administration,” Jeffries said. “It’s our full and complete expectation that they are going to produce at least 150 votes.”

Some House Democrats also appeared conflicted over the compromise measure on Tuesday, bemoaning the proposed spending cuts while emphasizing the crucial need to increase the government’s borrowing limit before 5 June.

“There are some pros to the bill. The chief one is that it raises the debt limit to 2025 and ensures that we avoid a Republican-led catastrophic default,” Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on Tuesday.

“I don’t want to minimize the challenges with the bill. There will be real harmful impacts for poor people and working people,” she added.

Jayapal said her team was in the process of conducting a whip count to assess where progressive members stand on the debt ceiling bill, but it appears certain that the legislation will win bipartisan support in the House, as the center-left New Democrat Coalition has endorsed the proposal.

If the bill passes the House, it will move on to the Senate, where lawmakers will have only a few days to approve the proposal before the 5 June default deadline. Even if McCarthy’s compromise can become law, the speaker’s troubles may be just beginning.

Members of the Freedom Caucus, some of whom initially resisted McCarthy’s speakership bid in January, toyed with the idea of ousting him depending on the outcome of Wednesday’s vote.

Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida told Newsmax on Tuesday, “If a majority of Republicans are against a piece of legislation, and you use Democrats to pass it, that would immediately be a black-letter violation of the deal we had with McCarthy to allow his ascent to the speakership, and it would likely trigger an immediate motion to vacate.”

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