- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Speaker Kevin McCarthy is working to unify House Republicans around a slate of proposals to slash spending and balance the budget before he enters negotiations with President Biden about raising the debt limit.

Mr. McCarthy on Tuesday outlined four broad requirements for a bill to increase the amount of money the government can borrow to meet expenses.

“I have no interest in brinkmanship — only in doing what is best for the American people,” Mr. McCarthy wrote in a letter asking Mr. Biden to start debt limit talks.

The White House dismissed the offer.

“If they want to have a conversation about our nation’s economic and fiscal future, it’s time for them to put out a budget — as the president has done with his detailed plan to grow the economy, lower costs, and reduce the deficit by nearly $3 trillion,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Mr. Biden has ruled out any cuts and insisted on a “clean” debt ceiling hike.

SEE ALSO: Kevin McCarthy outlines broad goals for debt limit talks with Biden

The president’s firm stance promises to push the negotiation ever closer to the deadline, expected in mid-August, to increase the debt limit before the Treasury expends “extraordinary measures” to pay the nation’s bills.

Mr. McCarthy warned the president that he was “on the clock.”

The problem for Mr. McCarthy is that three factions of House Republicans are seeking to make their imprint on the budget with competing sets of spending cuts. They all agree on recouping the $90.5 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief.

Of the three factions, the 40-member ultraconservative Freedom Caucus has been the most outspoken.

In exchange for raising the debt ceiling, the group wants $131 billion in immediate spending cuts. The Freedom Caucus has not specified what exactly should be cut but says defense should be excluded and “woke initiatives” prioritized.

They said the federal government is a target-rich environment for cuts.

“How much does it cost the American taxpayer to fund the censorship of its people?” said Rep. Dan Bishop, North Carolina Republican. “It’s at the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, at the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, it’s across the entire federal government. That’s what we want to cut.”

Earlier this year, the group forced Mr. McCarthy, California Republican, to decentralize the legislative process within the House in exchange for their support of his ascension to the speakership. They want to wield a similar influence over Mr. McCarthy in the spending fight.

Every group and every member of the House Republican Conference has leverage. Mr. McCarthy can lose only five Republican votes on any bill without having to rely on Democratic votes.

Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, a member of the Freedom Caucus, said the spending fight is all about Republicans keeping their campaign promises to voters.

“It is time for this country to actually have leadership in this town that wants to do what we actually said we would do, to come forward with a plan to cut spending, reduce the deficit and save $3 trillion over the next decade,” he said.

Apart from slashing spending by $130 billion, the Freedom Caucus is demanding that Congress claw back federal funding for several top White House initiatives. That includes the more than $400 billion set to go to Mr. Biden’s student loan forgiveness, $90.5 billion in unspent pandemic aid and $80 billion more for the IRS over the next decade.

Some of those goals overlap with the budget proposal that the Republican Study Committee is formulating. The 170-member group is the largest faction within the House Republican Conference and has a history of setting policy.

The Republican Study Committee has yet to reveal its budget framework but is expected to endorse clawing back unspent pandemic assistance and funding for Mr. Biden’s student loan forgiveness program. It also favors rescinding non-transportation spending in Mr. Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure law.

Republican Study Committee Chair Kevin Hern said his group is focused on structural changes to keep spending in line with tax revenue. Topping the list is overhauling the federal pension system and capping the annual growth of nondefense spending.

“Spending reforms are necessary; otherwise, we’ll be back in this same situation before we know it,” said Mr. Hern, Oklahoma Republican.

Such changes might be too ambitious for moderate House Republicans, some of whom represent suburban districts that Mr. Biden carried in 2020.

“No one wants to put their neck on the line for a budget or spending bill that isn’t going anywhere in the Democratic-run Senate,” said a centrist Republican who asked for anonymity to discuss the matter. “We’re the majority makers. If we can’t vote for it, then neither should the Republican House.”

Most of the moderate and centrist Republicans are coy about their budget proposal but say they want to help craft legislation that has a chance of becoming law.

Others signal what is acceptable to them.

Rep. Don Bacon, Nebraska Republican, has proposed tying growth in nondefense spending to inflation.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, South Dakota Republican, is backing legislation to expand work requirements for federal welfare programs such as food stamps.

“We know that work is the only path out of poverty,” said Mr. Johnson, chairman of the Main Street Caucus, a conservative group focused on pragmatic policies relating to the economy, business, environment and national security.

Other moderates are backing efforts to claw back the unspent COVID-19 money, and some suggest returning nondefense spending to pre-pandemic levels.

The divisions are vexing top Republicans on the House Budget and Appropriations committees. They are trying to craft a spending blueprint that will serve as a rebuttal to Mr. Biden’s $6.8 trillion budget proposal while laying out Republican priorities.

With the delayed release of their budget, Republicans running the Budget Committee have pivoted to producing a broad “term sheet” of spending and structural changes they want Mr. Biden to approve before they raise the debt limit.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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