Republicans worry these three changes to debt ceiling bill will sink future plans
by Cami Mondeaux, Congressional Reporter May 06, 2023
Some House Republicans are reportedly worried about a slew of last-minute changes that were made to Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) debt limit proposal, expressing concerns the Republican leader is harming chances of passing a compromise bill by making unrealistic promises to the most conservative members of his party.
In order to get his debt limit bill past the finish line, McCarthy made a number of concessions to far-right lawmakers in exchange for their support of the legislation. As a result, some members said they felt blindsided by the changes — especially after McCarthy and other GOP leaders promised no alterations would be made.
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The House narrowly passed McCarthy’s debt ceiling bill last month through a 217-215 vote, with just four Republicans voting against the measure. McCarthy secured the legislation by agreeing to a number of provisions, which has some GOP members concerned it could hurt their chances of moving other pieces of legislation forward in the future, according to Axios.
Here are some of the biggest changes McCarthy made to his debt ceiling and how they might pose challenges to the GOP later on:
Mace concessions: Gun control, cannabis, reproductive health
One of McCarthy’s staunchest holdouts was that of Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who repeatedly vowed to vote against the legislation unless changes were made.
On the day of the vote, Mace held an afternoon meeting with McCarthy as the South Carolina Republican unveiled some of her top requests — many of them unrelated to the debt limit bill itself. In exchange for her support, McCarthy promised to move legislation forward on at least three fronts: gun control, cannabis, and reproductive health. (Or “weed, women, and guns,” as Mace put it.)
However, some members told the outlet they were irritated by that agreement as the legislation is unrelated to the provisions included in the debt limit bill.
Mace did have one request related to McCarthy’s bill, which included an amendment that would require a balanced budget. Similar measures were floated in initial budget proposals but were later dropped due to intraparty disagreements.
McCarthy folds to Iowa delegation
Despite vowing to move the legislation to the floor without any changes, McCarthy did make a number of other concessions the night before the vote in order to get some key GOP lawmakers on board.
Most notably, McCarthy agreed to make changes to one of his provisions that would repeal tax credits on clean fuels to address concerns from some Midwestern lawmakers, particularly from Iowa. After meeting with members of the Iowa delegation late Tuesday, McCarthy agreed to include exceptions to preserve those credits for those who entered into binding contracts between August 2022 and April 19.
Proposals to cut those ethanol tax credits threatened to sink McCarthy’s bill after at least eight Republicans from the “Corn Belt” said they’d vote against the bill unless changes were made. McCarthy’s decision appeared to pay off in the end as all four of Iowa’s representatives — Reps. Ashley Hinson, Zach Nunn, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, and Randy Feenstra — voted in favor of the legislation.
Work requirements for Medicaid benefits
Also included in McCarthy’s bill was a provision to implement work requirements for low-income individuals on Medicaid — a provision that has concerned some GOP members who fear blowback on the issue during the 2024 campaign cycle.
The legislation would limit how many food stamps able-bodied recipients ages 18 to 55 and without children can receive unless they work at least 20 hours a week. That mandate currently only applies to those ages 18 to 49, but those requirements were temporarily suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Democrats have already taken aim at the proposal, especially after a report by the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities predicted more than 10 million people, including millions of children, would be at risk of losing at least some of their food stamp benefits should the plan go through.
GOP leaders stand behind legislation
In the days and hours leading up to the vote, several Republican leaders defended the changes made to the bill, noting they were merely clarifications and that “nothing of substance” was changed.
Other rank-and-file members acknowledged the process looked messy but noted it was crucial to getting the legislation through the lower chamber.
“This looks messy, but just look at the results — we got it done,” one member familiar with the leadership’s thinking told Axios. “It’s better to have more people having points of contact than less.”
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Negotiations on the debt ceiling have long remained stalled inside the halls of Congress as both parties have refused to budge in order to come to a compromise. Now, government leaders are scrambling to avoid a default on the country’s loans after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen issued a warning that Congress has just under a month until the United States will be unable to make payments if lawmakers don’t take action.
In response, Biden called the so-called “Big Four” — that is, McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — last week to schedule a meeting to discuss the debt ceiling, which is set to take place on Tuesday. All four leaders will be in attendance, marking the first time McCarthy and Biden have met to discuss the debt ceiling since Feb. 1.