GOP Shutters House in Protest 06/08 06:09
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.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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 Wednesday 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 -- and eventually they could. By evening, the rest of week's
schedule was called off.
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
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
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
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.
Not only did the conservatives object to the deal with Biden as
insufficient, they claim it violated the terms of an agreement they had reached
with McCarthy to roll back spending even further, to 2022 levels, to make him
"There was an agreement in January," Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., told reporters
after he left the speaker's office Wednesday morning. "And it was violated in
the debt-ceiling bill."
McCarthy insists the agreement he made during the speakers race to roll back
spending to 2022 was not a guaranteed outcome, only a goal. Besides, the debt
deal has a provision that would automatically return spending to the 2022 level
if Congress fails to put in place all the funding bills by January.
"We never promised we're going to be all at '22 levels --I said we would
strive to get to the '22 level or the equivalent amount," McCarthy said
Wednesday. "We've met all that criteria."
McCarthy also said he's not opposed to more funding for Ukraine, but he
wants to see exactly what's needed rather than simply agree to undoing the
spending caps that he negotiated with Biden and that were just signed into law.
Democrats watching the fallout from the debt-ceiling deal are mindful of the
"I think it's going to be tough," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the
top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
"You've got a whole bunch of people who want to cut back," she said of the
Republicans. "Potentially they could hold up appropriations."
If Congress fails to pass the spending bills by fall it risks a federal
government shutdown -- an outcome conservatives have forced multiple times
before, starting in the Clinton era when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich led the
House into a budget standoff, and again in 2013 when conservatives shut down
the government as they tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The longest federal shutdown in history was during the Trump era when
Congress refused his demands for money to build the border wall between the
U.S. and Mexico.
For now, McCarthy and his leadership team need to just figure out how to
bring the House chamber back into session.
"This is insane," said Republican Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas. "This is
not the way a governing majority is expected to behave, and frankly, I think
there will be a political cost to it."
The bills on tap this week were not the most pressing on the agenda, but are
popular among Republicans and carry important political messages even if they
have no chance of becoming law.
Among them is a pair of bills related to gas stoves, including one that
would prohibit the use of federal funds to regulate gas stoves as a hazardous
House action came to a sudden halt midday Tuesday when the band of
conservatives refused to support a routine procedural vote to set the rules
schedule for the day's debate. It was the first time in some 20 years a routine
rules vote was defeated.