Republican leaders on Wednesday nibbled away at the GOP opposition to their debt-ceiling bill, bringing the package a step closer to passing through the House this week.
Despite a series of last-minute changes to the legislation, however, a number of holdouts remain, setting the stage for a nail-biter of a vote when Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and his leadership team pull the trigger and bring the bill to the floor, perhaps as early as Wednesday afternoon.
The lingering opposition means the vote will come down to the wire — a test of McCarthy’s leadership powers where success hinges on the willingness of a slim and disorderly majority to reach a compromise and failure would dramatically weaken the Republicans’ hand heading into the debt-ceiling fight with President Biden.
A number of Midwestern Republicans, who had balked at the package over its elimination of tax credits for biofuels, reversed course after GOP leaders altered the bill in the Rules Committee in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
The changes kept certain biofuel tax credits in place and appear to have brought those wary Republicans on board.
“We’re going to make sure everything’s agreed. But there’s five revisions to the biofuels tax credit; of those — we were able to get all of them in,” Rep. Zach Nunn (R-Iowa) said as he emerged from a closed-door meeting of the GOP conference in the Capitol basement.
“This is huge,” he added. “And it’s a massive sea change from where we were just 24 hours ago.”
The package appeared doomed on Tuesday, after a diverse group of Republican lawmakers lined up in opposition, sending GOP leaders scrambling to twist arms and win over the number of votes they’ll need to send the package to the Senate. With no Democrats expected to support the legislation, McCarthy can afford few defections from his conference.
But Republican leaders — after vowing to make no changes to the initial package — caved early Wednesday to amend the bill to satisfy the critics. Aside from the ethanol language, they also expedited the installation of new work requirements for federal benefits, pulling the implementation date from fiscal 2025 to fiscal 2024.
On Wednesday, leadership spun the biofuel tax credit and work requirements adjustments as “technical changes.”
“There were some technical changes to address, dates and alignment,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said.
“There’s nothing of substance that was changed in the bill,” House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) said.
Still, it is unclear if GOP leaders have enough votes to pass the bill.
More debt ceiling coverage from The Hill
- GOP clears key procedural hurdle in sprint to debt ceiling vote
- GOP leaders blink, make last-minute changes to debt bill
- Nancy Mace flips to yes on debt ceiling bill
Rep. Tim Burchett (Tenn.), a third-term Republican who has never voted for a debt ceiling hike — even under former President Trump — said he’ll oppose it this time, as well. Burchett said he was scheduled to talk with GOP leadership on Tuesday about how to win his vote, but they stood him up.
“This morning, everybody’s asking about the new changes. Of course, how the hell am I supposed to get the changes? I haven’t met with anybody,” he said. “So I’m still a no.”
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), another holdout, has criticized the package for cuts to green energy subsidies like wind and solar, which affect her district, and for its failure to put a dent in the nation’s $32.4 trillion debt. Coming out of Wednesday’s meeting with GOP leaders, she said that position hasn’t changed.
“I told them where I am, and why I am where I am, and we’ll see what happens today,” Mace said. “I’m still leaning no.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who has been pushing for stricter work requirements, on Wednesday morning said he had not yet reviewed the revisions made overnight, leaving leadership waiting to see how he will come down on the bill. He said he was upset that the changes arrived at 2 a.m., when most members were home asleep.
“I don’t do my best work at 2 in the morning anymore,” Gaetz said.
Earlier in the week, Gaetz said he would vote against the bill unless changes were made to work requirements. The original version of the bill would require able-bodied adult recipients younger than 56 years old who do not have dependents work, look for work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week beginning in 2025.
Gaetz, however, wanted 30-hour requirements to kick in at the beginning of 2024.
Overnight Tuesday, a manager’s amendment was released that moves up the implementation of work requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from fiscal 2025 to fiscal 2024.
Gaetz said that change was “something I wanted to see,” but he noted that he has not yet reviewed the revisions because they were made in the middle of the night.
And Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who last week called himself a “hard no” but said it was possible to get him on board if stronger work requirements were added, told The Hill Wednesday morning that he has made his decision on the legislation, but he would not disclose where he stands.
“I have made my decision on this bill,” Santos said. “I guess we’ll see it on my vote.”
He did, however, call the late-night changes “a positive step forward” and a “best efforts forward.”
“But again, we’ll see what happens on the big board today,” he added, referring to the board in the House chamber where members’ votes are recorded.
GOP leaders expressed confidence that they would round up the votes and would bring the bill to the floor as early as Wednesday.
“This bill’s gonna pass; I think it may be unanimous,” said Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), referring to the GOP conference. “We expect today.”