Biden district Republicans hold their fire on debt ceiling bill
GOP lawmakers from New York, California, other purple areas appear ready to stick with leadership
Corrected April 25 | Swing district Republicans are thus far defending their party's bill pairing hefty spending cuts with a $1.5 trillion debt limit increase that’s expected on the House floor later this week.
Even among the few who have publicly expressed reservations about the 320-page measure, none have cited provisions to cut discretionary spending by $131 billion in the coming fiscal year.
President Joe Biden has decried the “massive cuts” that could come from education, health care, infrastructure, environmental and other popular domestic programs. Democratic appropriators have shared letters from federal agencies describing the expected impact that have turned into partywide talking points.
GOP House members from districts Biden won in 2020 say they’re not worried.
Mike Garcia, R-Calif., an appropriator who represents a district Biden carried by 12 points, called Democrats’ charges that Republicans are cutting domestic programs to the bone a “false narrative.”
Democrats have spent significant amounts of money in last Congress’ pandemic aid, infrastructure and health, climate and tax laws, he said.
“We are, by definition, moving our bad spending habits, especially over the last three years, in the right direction if we implement this bill,” Garcia said. “I’m content with it."
[Related: Debt limit bill in hand, McCarthy eyes vote next week]
Most of the provisions in the GOP bill have been polled and are “pretty popular,” Don Bacon, R-Neb., said. Bacon, whose district Biden won by 6 points, said his response to Democratic attacks would be to ask what they are doing about the national debt.
“We're on a path to 200 percent [debt to gross domestic product ratio]. That's unacceptable,” Bacon said.
‘Come back to haunt them’
Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., who led the House GOP campaign arm in the 2020 and 2022 cycles, said if Democrats try to attack Republicans for voting for the debt limit bill, “it's probably going to come back to haunt them.”
“You're talking about Manchin's spending proposal, pre-pandemic spending levels, and then capping it at 1 percent over the next 10 years,” he said, referring to centrist Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va. “Good luck attacking any Republican on that.”
Emmer also cited the popularity of provisions in the bill that would expand or add work requirements for able-bodied adults without young children to federal benefit programs and the repeal of Biden’s student loan forgiveness program.
“The majority of voters in the battleground districts that Biden won … agree that [Speaker] Kevin McCarthy is actually negotiating in good faith and that the spending reforms should be tied to the debt ceiling,” Emmer said.
He was referring to a recent survey the American Action Network, a GOP leadership affiliated outside group, conducted in 87 battleground congressional districts where Biden won by an average of 5 points.
Fifty percent of the 750 likely voters surveyed across the battleground districts said they oppose increasing the debt ceiling without cutting spending, compared to 37 percent who support a clean debt limit increase. In another question that laid out both parties’ stances, 53 percent sided with McCarthy and Republicans, while 39 percent backed Biden and Democrats.
The AAN poll, which has a 3.6 percent margin of error, also found specific policies in the bill, like cutting nondefense discretionary spending, strengthening work requirements, overhauling energy permitting regulations and reclaiming unspent pandemic funds, had support from a majority of voters.
Of the 18 Republicans that represent districts Biden won in 2020, seven told CQ Roll Call or have said publicly they would vote for the bill, two are likely to support it and four were undecided.
California Rep. Michelle Steel’s office said they don’t reveal her position ahead of the actual vote. Four offices — California’s John Duarte, New Jersey’s Thomas H. Kean Jr., and New York’s Nick LaLota and Marc Molinaro — didn't return requests for comment.
In addition to Garcia and Bacon, Arizona’s David Schweikert, Californians Young Kim and David Valadao and New Yorkers Anthony D'Esposito and Brandon Williams all plan to vote for the bill. They cited the fact that it’s meant to be an opening offer from which Republicans could negotiate with Democrats.
“This shows that the Congress is seriously willing to work to get a meaningful solution,” Kim, whose district went for Biden by 2 points, said. “We need to start talking about meaningful ways of cutting our spending.”
Valadao, whose district Biden won by 13 points, supports the bill. “He understands this is a necessary first step in a process that will require both sides of the aisle coming together to find agreement,” spokeswoman Faith Mabry said.
D'Esposito said on Fox Business Monday morning that he and several of his New York colleagues had conversations over the weekend with each other and GOP leaders and decided to support the bill.
His district is the most favorable toward Biden of all GOP-held seats; Biden carried it by 15 points. D’Esposito pointed out that Biden and top Democrats have ignored GOP efforts to negotiate.
“Quite frankly, they’ve done a great job trying to cause havoc and create fear about defaulting,” he said. “But the only ones who have been working to find a solution are the Republicans.”
Williams also cited the $4.5 trillion in savings the bill is estimated to produce over the next decade as a reason for his support. In a statement he called the bill a “good faith plan” from House Republicans “to reduce our deficit, temporarily raise the debt ceiling, and cut out the reckless spending that has fueled inflation.”
Two other Biden district Republicans, Oregon’s Lori Chavez-DeRemer and New York’s Mike Lawler were less definitive but leaning toward voting for the bill.
Chavez-DeRemer, whose district Biden won by 9 points, is “likely to support it,” according to her spokesperson. Despite constituent concerns about repealing clean energy tax credits, the first-year lawmaker “understands that this serves as a starting point for negotiations” and that the rising debt should be addressed, the spokesperson said.
Lawler, whose district went for Biden by 10 points, said Sunday on ABC 7’s Up Close with Bill Ritter that he supports the framework of the bill but needs to finish reviewing the text.
“The bottom line here is this: The president and [Senate Majority Leader Charles E.] Schumer must negotiate with Speaker McCarthy, we must cut spending over the long-term and we must not default,” he said. “Those have been my three parameters from the very beginning.”
Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., said last week he was undecided but viewed the bill as a “volley” to kick start negotiations and thus was less likely to be hung up over provisions he may not support.
Jen Kiggans, R-Va., whose district went for Biden by 2 points in 2020, also said last week she was undecided even as she called the bill a “step in the right direction.”
The bill repeals an expansion of tax credits for wind energy production in Democrats’ 2022 budget law that Kiggans would like to protect. Dominion Energy Inc. has a $9.8 billion offshore wind project in her district, which the utility anticipates will be completed in 2026.
“I’ve been a supporter of wind energy in my district,” Kiggans said. “I want to encourage people to pursue alternative forms of energy production.”
Kiggans was in touch with leadership over the weekend, and they have been responsive to her concerns, her spokesman said Monday. The spokesman didn’t say how Kiggans would vote but said she “has full faith the Republican majority can both restore fiscal responsibility and empower Americans to be good stewards of our nation’s vast natural resources.”
Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz., is undecided as he “carefully” reviews the bill, his spokesperson said. “Especially as an appropriator, this is an important conversation and a decision he does not take lightly.”
George Santos, R-N.Y., said last week he opposed the bill because of its “inconsistency” with “punitive” repeal of the energy tax credits while still being “very liberal with work requirements for benefits.”
“It’s just not for me. It doesn’t represent the values of New York’s 3rd District,” said Santos, whose constituents favored Biden by 8 points in 2020.
Santos filed two amendments to the measure with the Rules Committee, which on Tuesday is scheduled to consider parameters for floor debate.
When asked Monday if votes on either amendment could sway him, Santos’ office said he was undecided.
One would raise the threshold for Medicaid work requirements from 20 to 30 hours a week, something members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus have sought as well.
The other is related to a provision, originally in the House-passed energy package, that would put new offshore wind lease sales on hold until the Government Accountability Office publishes a report on potential impacts in those areas on military readiness, the marine environment and tourism. Santos' amendment would add the Long Island Sound to the list of offshore areas subject to the GAO requirement.
Leadership is not planning changes, arguing the bill already incorporates input from members across all spectrums of the conference. "They built it," Emmer said.
David Jordan and Peter Cohn contributed to this report.
This report has been corrected to reflect that President Joe Biden won GOP Rep. Mike Lawler's 17th District in New York by 10 percentage points.