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    Saturday, March 02, 2024

    McCarthy, Republican lawmakers reach deal to end House floor standoff for now

    House Republicans have temporarily overcome an impasse after roughly a dozen far-right lawmakers defied their leadership and blocked a key procedural hurdle that effectively froze the House floor from considering any business for almost a week.

    Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and several of the protesting members emerged after an hour-long meeting Monday evening to separately announce that the House will vote on five pieces of legislation this week, including a key demand by the far-right group on a resolution denouncing a Biden administration gun regulation.

    Later Monday night, in a clear indication that McCarthy is attempting to appease the far-right rebels, a top McCarthy lieutenant announced that both defense and domestic spending bills would be written with deeper spending cuts at levels they demanded.

    But the agreement does not absolve McCarthy from ongoing pressure from the group, which vows to continue to hold him accountable in the upcoming appropriations process. They also want assurance that they will be part of the negotiating process for bills as often as their more moderate colleagues and that leadership won't rely on Democrats to pass any legislation.

    "I think there's a willingness. That doesn't mean it's all locked together," McCarthy said after announcing that the House will postpone scheduled votes one more day. "I think everybody's attitude was, how do we find it when we all work together? And we know [when] we work together, we work on conservative issues, we're winning, and we get more victories that way. And I think everybody wants to get back to that place."

    The standoff stemmed from the hard-right's commitment to dramatically reduce the debt that is sitting at about $31 trillion. They want deeper spending cuts and are angry that the agreement reached late last month with President Biden to lift the debt limit to prevent default would do little to narrow the spending gap and would suspend the limit until 2025, removing an effective pressure point to force Democrats to reduce spending.

    There is also a deep-seated irritation with Republican leaders who relied on Democratic votes to pass the debt limit deal. Eleven members of the far-right group, many of whom belong to the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus, blocked a procedural hurdle that would have set up parameters to debate and pass messaging bills last week to force GOP leaders to the negotiating table. The group said that McCarthy had violated an agreement made with them in January to elect him House speaker.

    McCarthy supposedly made a number of bargains with far-right members to win the speaker's gavel in January, but none of those alleged deals were written down and released publicly, leading to a game of he-said, he-said when it came to broken promises.

    The hurdle, known as a rule, has historically been passed with only the majority party's votes, including by those who would vote against a bill during final passage. Republicans balked that Democrats had to bail them out to pass the rule vote on the debt ceiling, and that almost 20 more Democrats voted to pass the final bill than Republicans.

    The far-right members then used their first opportunity to sink a rule vote last week - that prevented debate on conservative priorities, including preserving gas stove usage - as a signal that they should not be ignored in the future or that leaders should not solely rely on Democrats to enact their agenda. Any five GOP lawmakers could prevent a vote from passing through their razor-thin majority.

    "We reiterated to Speaker McCarthy that he is our preferred coalition partner. But we want to be his preferred coalition partner, and it cannot abide that we are the coalition partner on the frivolous and [House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)] is the coalition partner on the substantive," said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who never supported McCarthy for speaker.

    The House is starting the process of writing its funding bills, which will be a huge test for the speaker. McCarthy has indicated that he is open to spending bills going below the budget caps he negotiated with the White House, and the far-right members are likely to hold him to that, an escalation that could shut down the government.

    An announcement by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said she would write funding bills at fiscal year 2022 levels for new spending for both defense and nondefense discretionary spending, levels much lower than the slight increase to fiscal year 2023 levels agreed to with the White House in the debt limit negotiations.

    This is a significant concession that is sure to get fierce pushback from House Democrats. It also will make it much more difficult to come to an agreement to fund the government with the Senate, where Republicans will probably reject cuts to defense spending and Democrats have bristled at even minor domestic spending reductions.

    The temporary agreement suggests that the far-right lawmakers will support a rule vote Tuesday that includes parameters for debate on four votes scheduled last week and one on Rep. Andrew S. Clyde's (R-Ga.) resolution against limitations to use pistol braces. Clyde accused House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) of threatening to withhold a floor vote on his resolution unless he voted in support of the debt limit bill earlier this month, which infuriated fellow Freedom Caucus members.

    Scalise has repeatedly denied that he threatened Clyde, instead saying that he told him that his measure did not have enough support from within the GOP conference to be scheduled on the floor. Both worked together through last week, alongside co-sponsor Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), to whip colleagues to ensure the bill could immediately pass. Its inclusion in the rule vote Tuesday is a major reason the House will resume voting this week.

    "The agreement to vote for the rules packages was to liberate the pistol brace legislation. And you know, there'll be more votes next week and more rules, and if there's not a renegotiated power-sharing agreement, then perhaps we'll be back here next week," Gaetz said. "That's not our goal. Our goal is to continue to build off the momentum of this discussion we just had."

    Yet all sides of the negotiation emerged noting that a long-standing agreement has yet to be reached. Members of the far-right group stressed that they are unafraid to block rule votes if they deem any bill leaders hope to consider as antithetical to their desire for bills to be partisan in nature and reduce spending.

    "It's going to depend on how much progress we make towards these other things: policy, procedures and personnel. And if we can make the progress towards achieving those three areas, then you'll see that the floor functions very smoothly," Rep. Matthew M. Rosendale (R-Mont.) said after meeting with McCarthy. "But if it doesn't, then you'll certainly know, you'll be aware because the floor will stop. Functions will stop."

    The fragile truce will be tested repeatedly in McCarthy's slim majority where he can only lose four votes and still be able to pass rules and legislation.

    Some Republicans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door negotiations, have also expressed concerns about a key priority many of their colleagues campaigned on to win the majority: tax cuts, including extending some of former president Donald Trump's 2017 ones. Two far-right lawmakers noted that the proposal that could receive a vote in the House Ways and Means Committee as early as Tuesday would only blow up the deficit, further increasing the debt which Republicans have pledged to decrease.

    Yet the far-right group's threat looms large as a majority of Republicans believe that repeated attempts to block legislation and freeze the House from considering measures could cost them their majority if they cannot fund the government or pass myriad largely bipartisan reauthorization bills.

    Asked whether this is the new normal for the Republican conference, Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) seemed nervous as he paused.

    "This can't be the new normal. We can't afford to have this kind of disruption every week," he said. "That's not to say that everything's going to go perfectly smoothly throughout the 118th Congress, we will have some times where things go sideways for a couple of days because that's just what this town is. But no, we're not in an era of new normal."

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