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Freedom Caucus lays out debt limit, spending demands

Ultraconservative group seeks austere 10-year spending caps, work requirements, regulatory rollback

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., speaks during the Freedom Caucus news conference on the debt limit in the Capitol on Friday, March 10, 2023.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., speaks during the Freedom Caucus news conference on the debt limit in the Capitol on Friday, March 10, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Freedom Caucus members want to cap nondefense discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels for the next decade, arguing Republicans should use the upcoming debt limit fight to force Democrats to agree to steep spending cuts they say would save $3 trillion.

The group of roughly three dozen ultraconservatives held a news conference Friday to announce their spending demands, which also includes rescinding unspent pandemic funds, repealing mandatory spending in Democrats’ climate, tax and health law and blocking President Joe Biden’s student debt relief executive action that the Supreme Court is reviewing. 

The Freedom Caucus also wants to impose work requirements on various federal benefit programs like Medicaid, which they estimate would produce $30 billion a year in savings, and enact legislation to curb government regulations and spur domestic energy production. 

To ensure their push for steep spending cuts doesn’t lead to a government shutdown and to incentivize Congress to enact appropriations on time, the Freedom Caucus is also proposing that the House pass a preemptive stopgap funding bill that would set discretionary spending at fiscal 2019 levels for nondefense accounts. 

If the legislation the group has proposed is enacted, Freedom Caucus members “will consider voting to raise the debt ceiling,” according to a one-page summary of their proposal. The ultraconservatives routinely voted against past debt limit increases. 

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry said in a brief interview after the news conference that the group used flexible language because they don’t yet know how large of a debt ceiling increase Democrats want or what else they may seek in negotiations, should they decide to abandon their current position of not bargaining around the debt limit.

“We don’t know what their proposal is. So it’s appropriate to say ‘consider’ until we see,” the Pennsylvania Republican said. “The more they ask for, the more we’re going to ask for.”

Perry also argued that enacting spending cuts ahead of the debt limit “x date,” which experts have estimated will hit sometime between June and August, would allow for a lower borrowing limit. 

“For every dollar we cut now, that reduces the amount that they need to ask for in the debt ceiling,” he said. “So let’s cut that now. And that also extends the time.” 

Official position 

The group’s plan represents an official House Freedom Caucus position, which requires backing from a supermajority of the membership. The Freedom Caucus does not publicly release its roster or even a total number of members, but there are more than 30 who have publicized themselves that they are in the group. 

A majority of the Freedom Caucus members who attended the news conference to announce the plan were among the 20 Republicans who initially withheld support for Kevin McCarthy during the speaker election. 

To win their backing, McCarthy agreed that the House would write its fiscal 2024 appropriations bills at fiscal 2022 levels and to fight for spending cuts in debt ceiling negotiations. But the California Republican did not make any promises about spending across the next decade, other than he’d allow a House floor vote on a balanced-budget resolution. 

Perry spoke to McCarthy about the Freedom Caucus proposal before releasing it publicly. 

“We’re not assuming leadership is opposed to these things,” he said.  

The House Budget Committee is currently working on drafting a budget resolution that most Republicans want to get to balance within the 10-year budget window. McCarthy and Budget Chairman Jodey C. Arrington, R-Texas, have said the GOP budget will be released later than the statutory April 15 deadline for congressional action because Biden was delayed in submitting his budget.

Biden’s budget blueprint, released in part on Thursday, would over the next decade increase spending by $1.9 trillion and revenues by $4.7 trillion, amounting to $2.8 trillion in deficit reduction over the 10-year budget window. 

Freedom Caucus members said Biden’s budget is “dead on arrival,” as they advocated for a return to pre-pandemic spending levels and against raising taxes. “It’s pretty obvious we can live within our means here, but he refuses to,” Perry said.

Biden and McCarthy had one initial meeting in January to discuss budgetary matters but haven’t had a follow-up discussion.

During his budget rollout speech in Philadelphia on Thursday and again in comments at the White House on Friday, Biden suggested he wasn’t prepared to talk to the House GOP leader again about the budget and debt limit until Republicans produce their own detailed plan.

“I told the speaker, as soon as he’s about ready to lay out his budget, I’m willing to sit down. And now I’m hearing things like, well, we’re not going to have our budget till April or May, maybe even June,” Biden said Friday.

“All this talk pushing me to get my budget done. I said I’d have it done by the 9th, I had it done by the 9th,” the president added. “It doesn’t sound like it’s on the level yet.”

Defense, Medicare, Social Security spared

The Freedom Caucus proposal leaves some spending off the chopping block. The desire to cap discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels would not apply to defense, although the group isn’t looking to increase military spending like some GOP colleagues want to do.

“Defense spending can remain flat. We’re looking at nondefense discretionary,” Perry said.

He also said the group agrees with the broader Republican Conference position to keep Medicare and Social Security off the table in negotiations. 

“The benefits under Medicare and Social Security are not going to be cut,” Perry said. 

The $3 trillion the Freedom Caucus wants to cut from nondefense spending over 10 years is largely targeted at what members call a “woke” bureaucracy. They estimate the fiscal 2024 savings would be $131 billion. 

“We think we should be pulling government back, getting out of the way of the American people, letting them create growth and opportunity for their kids and grandkids,” said Texas Rep. Chip Roy, the Freedom Caucus policy chair. “And if you create economic growth you can actually grow out of the debt that we face.”

The Freedom Caucus also wants to roll back mandatory spending that Democrats enacted last Congress. That includes rescinding all unspent and unobligated COVID-19 funding and repealing from Democrats’ climate, tax and health law the $80 billion in IRS funding and billions more in climate funding. 

“In the last Congress we fought like hell to make sure that we weren’t spending recklessly here in Washington, D.C.,” said Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. “And unfortunately we did not have the power of the pen, we did not have the power of the gavels and we certainly did not have the power of the purse under Democrat rule.”

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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