Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are starting to temper expectations among their members about what a final debt ceiling deal could look like, becoming more explicit in acknowledging that neither side will get everything it wants.
When asked Monday whether any ultimate deal to cut spending as a condition of raising the debt ceiling will lose votes on both the left and right ideological edges of the parties, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) indicated that it would.
“Did you ever think at the end of the day that when you get into a negotiation with both sides that only one side is gonna carry everything? No, no one thinks that,” McCarthy said.
That same day, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said he was willing to consider a White House offer to freeze spending at current levels — a stance that is drawing ire from liberals.
Though Republicans flatly rejected that offer, it shows just how far the White House has moved in discussions with Republicans in a matter of weeks as pressure mounts to secure a deal.
“Any proposal that potentially offers to freeze spending is not a proposal that has been put into the public domain by the left flank,” Jeffries told reporters Monday. “That’s an inherently reasonable effort to find common ground in a divided government situation.”
Politics watchers had long expected the eventual deal to lift the debt ceiling to fall somewhere between what the two parties are demanding, but McCarthy’s and Jeffries’s statements are their clearest signals yet that their members should prepare for a compromise that jettisons some party priorities.
The tempering on both sides comes as negotiators say they are having productive meetings but remain apart on key issues ahead of a default that the Treasury Department says could come as soon as June 1.
Even with Democratic support, any deal that McCarthy makes will have to win support from a large majority of the House Republicans in order for him to keep the confidence of his conference — and his gavel.
“[McCarthy] knows that to get this passed out of the House, it’s gonna require a conservative work product that fundamentally changes how we spend money in this country,” Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) said. “I believe that he’ll deliver that. I believe we’ll have the sort of overwhelming majority of the conference.”
Right-wingers lined up to support the Speaker to pass a bill that paired a $1.5 trillion debt ceiling increase with around $4.8 trillion in deficit reductions over a decade. The measure was designed to get President Biden to the negotiating table, but members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus are pushing the Speaker to “use every leverage and tool at their disposal” to force the Senate to vote on the proposal or offer a countermeasure.
Some members have said they see the deal as a floor, rather than a ceiling, for what they expect in a final product.
“I’ll look at anything,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said about a potential deal. But he said many Republicans feel that the House GOP debt bill was “meager at best,” and that he would want “four times the cuts.”
“I don’t know why we’re negotiating. The House has done its job. The Senate needs to pass the bill,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), adding that the only position being pushed by members in a Tuesday morning conference meeting was to pass the House GOP bill.
McCarthy spoke to that stance when asked Tuesday if he is preparing his conference to accept something less than the House GOP bill, responding that the real question is “what’s the Senate willing to accept, because they didn’t do anything.”
Yet he has laid out only a few red lines for a compromise: no tax increases, cut discretionary spending below current levels and no clean debt ceiling increase.
The red lines are around major issues, to be sure, but fall short of the full GOP wish list.
Johnson said it is too early to worry about how Republicans are going to whip the votes for a debt limit compromise. And others are downplaying the difficulty of doing so, with Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), chair of the House Rules Committee, saying leadership will be able to secure that large majority with “a great whip team, which we have, and I think the sense that we’re being successful.”
At the same time, Democratic leaders are also feeling pressure from their left flank, as liberals roundly reject negotiations with Republicans over the debt limit.
Speaking about the White House proposal to freeze spending, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said she could not in “good faith understand how that is a reasonable offer at the moment.”
“I think the offer should raise the debt ceiling. We have conversations about the budget later,” she said, adding, “If Democrats don’t get serious about the extremists that they’re dealing with, we are going to risk allowing these people to destroy our economy and the global economy.”
The warning from Omar adds to some of the growing uneasiness among progressives in recent weeks over the potential concessions the White House may end up making in order to find compromise with GOP leadership.
“Look at what is being proposed in terms of cuts,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters earlier this week. “Don’t talk about spending in the abstract. Headstart, 200,000 kids, no slots. 100,000 kids without child care.”
However, DeLauro didn’t rule out spending cuts entirely in comments to reporters, as many members on both sides have refrained from drawing red lines in debt limit negotiations.
Others in the party also aren’t thrilled by the direction talks have gone, but there is an understanding that the final compromise between the White House and a divided Congress won’t include everything both sides have pushed for.
“We have a divided government. Nothing can get done around here without votes on both sides in the Senate and the House,” Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Tuesday. “That means neither side is getting 100 percent of what they want.”
“We recognize that we’re not going to get everything. Republicans shouldn’t get everything,” he said.
Mychael Schnell contributed to this report, which was updated on May 24 at 7:03 a.m.