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Debt Ceiling Deal Causing the Ultimate GOP Temper Tantrum
Plus: What it means for Ukraine to finally receive F-16 fighter jets.
Good afternoon and welcome to Press Pass. I hope you all had a relaxing Memorial Day weekend. It’s debt ceiling week in Washington. The last-minute scramble to put together a deal succeeded, but House Speaker Kevin McCarthy now has to suppress a revolt from his conference’s most strident members. More on that below.
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Republican negotiators reached a deal with the White House on Saturday to set up a bill that would avoid default on the national debt. Naturally, this has upset some people on Capitol Hill.
First, here’s a summary of the deal’s most important items:
Military spending increases by 3 percent to $886 billion for the next fiscal year, FY 2024.
Non-military spending stays the same in 2024 and will increase by 1 percent in FY 2025.
Biden’s IRS funding gets cut by $21.4 billion, with $20 billion of that total being repurposed for other spending areas between FY 2024 and 2025. Keep in mind that the original IRS funding boost (as part of the Inflation Reduction Act) provided for $80 billion over the next decade—the remainder of that increase, about $60 billion, is untouched.
Work requirements are temporarily expanding for some adults benefiting from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Democrats are suggesting this isn’t as bad as it could have been: The primary change is to raise the upper age limit from 49 to 55 for “able-bodied” adults in the program subject to the requirements, and this change will sunset in 2030. The administration believes that the number of people required to work while enrolled in SNAP will actually remain about the same because of a simultaneous expansion of exemptions for veterans, people who are homeless, and former foster children.
Unspent COVID money, about $30 billion of it, is being rescinded.
Any deal capable of passing both a closely divided Republican House and a closely divided Democratic Senate to land on President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature would have to make everyone at least a little bit unhappy. The Biden administration’s concessions on SNAP work requirements in particular have upset far-left members of the Democratic caucus, while McCarthy’s decision to leave some fights for another day threatens to upend his House majority’s tenuous balance with its far-right wing, including members of the highly irritable Freedom Caucus.
But while both sides gave something up to reach the agreement, House Republicans have lost the messaging battle about who “won” the deal. This has resulted in a tantrum among the ultraconservatives who bullied McCarthy so hard during his embarrassingly drawn-out speaker election in January. Given the political circumstances, there is no possible debt-ceiling deal that would satisfy these members.
Now these far-right Republicans are doing everything they can to derail the deal. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) is claiming he made a secret deal with McCarthy that nothing would leave the Rules Committee—to which McCarthy begrudgingly appointed Roy and several other ultraconservatives—without unanimous consent from the panel’s Republicans.
But this agreement was never put in writing. Nor were many of the other sweeteners McCarthy doled out in January. Sensing resistance from a man they were supposed to be able to control, Freedom Caucus and FC-adjacent Republicans are causing a fuss. At least one has floated the possibility of forcing a vote to remove McCarthy from the speakership using one of the rules McCarthy allowed into the House rules package as part of his bid for the role in January.
Members of the Freedom Caucus gave voice to many of their grievances and demands during a press conference Tuesday afternoon:
The Republican conference right now has been torn asunder and we are working hard to put it back together again this weekend by making sure that this bill gets stopped.
Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.):
What I see here in this deal is absolutely one of the biggest abominations since I’ve been in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said the default X-date of June 5 is not real and just a Biden administration-created “scare tactic”:
We are not going to default. We are taking in record revenues. That’s a matter of fact in the month of June, the biggest . . . glut of cash comes into the federal government. There was no chance of ever defaulting, not paying our debt, not paying Social Security, not paying Medicare, not paying veteran’s benefits. That was never gonna happen. This is a scare tactic. . . .
We’ve asked for Janet Yellen’s figures and with all due respect she comes with zero credibility to this discussion.
If you ask these Republicans what should come next—instead of the deal made this weekend—the answers you’ll get are all over the place. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) said an alternate path could have been a clean debt ceiling increase, something Republicans didn’t have the stomach for a month ago. Roy made an open plea to the rest of the Republican conference to join his crusade.
And of course, another option on the table is retribution against McCarthy. At the end of the press conference, when asked for a show of hands of who is considering a motion to vacate the chair (the procedure that would prompt a vote requiring McCarthy to defend his speakership, setting up a showdown similar to the events of January), only Bishop raised his hand. After the press conference, Bishop told reporters his reasoning:
I’m just fed up with the lies. I’m fed up with the lack of courage—the cowardice. And I intend—in the time that I am here—I intend to see to it that there’s somebody who’s prepared to say what needs to be done.
Here are the probably next steps: The debt ceiling bill will likely pass the Rules Committee. It will then likely receive support from many House Democrats to get it out of that chamber..
The House’s far-right Republicans will do everything in their power to jam this legislative mechanism, but they are unlikely to have enough power to do so. A key indicator is that Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), one of the conservatives on the Rules Committee, is leaning toward supporting the deal, as Bishop told Steve Bannon on his “War Room” show Tuesday morning.
A final vote in the House is likely to take place this Wednesday night around 8:30 p.m. ET. It’s going to have to if lawmakers want to have any hope of raising the limit in advance of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s June 5 “X-date” for a default on the national debt.
Then the bill goes on to the Senate, where every vote apart from those on executive branch nominations must be bipartisan to succeed—and where it is expected to pass without difficulty.
What it means for Ukraine to finally receive F-16s
We have a very smart piece worth your time at The Bulwark this morning. Brynn Tannehill, a former U.S. Navy aviator and current senior technical analyst at the RAND Corporation, outlined the benefits of Ukraine finally receiving American-made F-16 fighter jets.
In total, it seems highly unlikely that F-16s will change the balance on the battlefield any time soon. The airspace over Ukraine will remain contested and Ukraine’s ground forces will still need to rely on Ukraine’s existing air platforms—including drones—for air support.
In the long run, however, there are significant logistical and tactical advantages to Ukraine’s acquiring F-16s. It will be easier for Ukraine to sustain aircraft whose parts are supplied by the United States and NATO countries than their legacy aircraft manufactured by Russia. It also could make it easier for Ukraine to integrate their air force into NATO at some future date.
It took a long time for other countries to agree to send F-16s to Ukraine and train their pilots to fly them. Now that the Ukrainians have received these commitments, you can learn about the timeline for delivery, how the weapon systems stack up against those of their Russian counterparts, and how the planes could change the shape of the war over the coming year. I know I found it helpful and I hope you will, too.