Four House Republicans opposed the conference’s debt ceiling and spending cuts bill on Wednesday, breaking from the party on a key piece of legislation that GOP leaders see as their opening offer in negotiations with the White House over the borrowing limit.
The chamber approved the legislation — titled the Limit, Save, Grow Act — in a 217-215 vote, marking a victory for Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Republicans are hoping the legislation pulls President Biden to the negotiating table.
The bill would raise the debt limit by $1.5 trillion or through March 2024, whichever happens first, and it includes proposals to bring down government spending that the Congressional Budget Office said comes out to $4.8 trillion.
Four GOP lawmakers opposed the measure: Reps. Tim Burchett (Tenn.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Ken Buck (Colo.) and Andy Biggs (Ariz.). The Republican defections put the conference close to seeing their bill fail — if one more GOP lawmaker broke from the party and all Democrats remained united in opposition, the measure would not have passed.
Burchett told reporters ahead of the vote that he would not support the measure, raising concerns about the size of the U.S. debt, which currently sits at roughly $31.5 trillion. In a statement after the bill passed, he raised those same reservations.
“I have never voted to raise our debt limit no matter who was in charge. Our country is nearly $32 trillion in debt right now. That’s a debt neither we, nor our kids or grandkids can pay,” Burchett said in a statement.
“We need to do whatever is necessary to get back to a balanced budget and meaningful debt reduction so this issue doesn’t keep coming back to haunt us,” he added.
Gaetz voted against the legislation on Wednesday after threatening to do so on Monday over requests for changes strengthening work requirements for government benefits. The original text of the legislation would require that 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 starting in fiscal year 2025.
Gaetz, however, wanted 30-hour requirements and for them to begin at the start of fiscal year 2024. Republican leaders at the last minute changed the bill to begin implementing work requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at the start of fiscal year 2024, but they did not increase the requirements to fiscal year 30 hours.
Before the vote on Wednesday Gaetz said that revision was “something I wanted to see,” but he ultimately opposed the measure when it hit the floor.
In a statement following the vote, the congressman raised issue with the fact that the changes were agreed to overnight. Republican leaders agreed to the revisions during a Rules Committee hearing at around 2 a.m.
“As our nation is careening into a $32 trillion debt, Congress shouldn’t be making final changes at 2 a.m. – the morning of the vote – to legislation raising the debt limit $1.5 trillion,” Gaetz said.
Buck, who did not disclose how he would vote before the bill hit the floor, wrote in a statement that he opposed the measure because it did not do enough to curb government spending.
“While a step in the right direction, the Limit, Save, Grow Act does not do enough to rein in the federal government’s reckless spending,” Buck said in a statement.
“This bill will only reduce the projected deficit by $4.7 trillion dollars over the next ten years, leaving America with a $53 trillion debt during that time and our country on the brink of a fiscal crisis,” he continued. “Republicans must distinguish ourselves from Democrats by taking a stand against out-of-control spending and reversing course before it’s too late.”
Biggs, who told reporters he was leaning no ahead of the vote, took issue with what he saw as the small amount of savings included in the bill in a statement after the measure passed.
“Whether you drive off a cliff at 60 miles per hour or 80 miles per hour, the end result is the same: a horrific crash. That’s what we’re presented with today. The Limit, Save, Grow Act is touted to “save” $4.8 trillion. In reality, it merely reduces the 2033 projected national debt from $52 trillion to around $47 trillion,” Biggs wrote.
“We owe the American people and our future generations sound and responsible fiscal policy. Increasing the national debt to “only” $47 trillion over ten years – an increase of over $14 trillion from today – is misguided and perpetuates Washington’s spending problem,” he added.
The congressman said the legislation should have capped government spending levels at fiscal year 2019 levels rather than 2022.
“At the bare minimum, this legislation should have returned federal spending to FY 2019, pre-COVID levels, which would allow us to spend within our means. It isn’t the panacea but it will bend the trajectory down and start correcting the problem,” he said.