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GOP leaders try to woo holdouts ahead of debt limit vote

Biofuels backers and others pose a challenge for whip count with few votes to spare

House Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo., right, confers with an aide before the start of the House Rules Committee meeting on the debt limit bill on Tuesday.
House Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo., right, confers with an aide before the start of the House Rules Committee meeting on the debt limit bill on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Kevin McCarthy is planning to bring House Republicans’ bill that would raise the debt limit, cut spending and overhaul energy tax and regulatory policies to the floor Wednesday without changes some members have pushed for in recent days.

“We’re going to pass the bill on the floor,” the California Republican told reporters late Tuesday.

McCarthy’s comments came after he huddled with a group of Midwestern GOP members in his office for roughly an hour to discuss their concerns about the bill repealing biofuel tax credits that are a big boon for farmers and energy producers in their states.

Republicans spotted entering or exiting the meeting with McCarthy included Iowa’s Randy Feenstra, Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Zach Nunn; Minnesota’s Michelle Fischbach and Brad Finstad; Wisconsin’s Derrick Van Orden; Nebraska’s Adrian Smith and Mike Flood; and South Dakota’s Dusty Johnson.

Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo., senior Agriculture Committee member Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., and Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves — who McCarthy has appointed to help unify various factions around a single set of debt limit demands — also participated in the meeting.

Afterward, McCarthy acknowledged that “a lot of them bring up a lot of issues” in regard to repealing the biofuel credits. But he seemed confident he had convinced enough of the Midwesterners to vote for the bill (HR 2811) without changes, in acceptance that it’s just an opening bid for bipartisan negotiations.

“This bill is to get us to a negotiating point,” McCarthy said. “It’s not the final provisions, and there’s a number of members that will vote for it going forward to say there are some concerns they have and that they’d be concerned about which things come up, but they want to make sure the negotiation goes forward.”

Most members declined to comment after the meeting. Van Orden would only say he was headed to the Rules Committee to talk about his amendment that proposed striking repeal of the credits the Midwestern members wanted to protect — namely ones for biodiesel, clean fuels, sustainable aviation fuels and carbon capture for ethanol plants — as well as one for nuclear power.

Finstad said conversations were still ongoing.

“I’m just thrilled everybody’s talking about biofuels, period,” Hinson said.

Adrian Smith said he has concerns about rolling back the incentives for biofuel and ethanol, and that he’s looking at all the factors he needs to consider when deciding if he’ll support the bill. He wouldn’t say whether he’s made a decision.

Flood said he supports the debt limit package as is. “I’m gonna vote to support our speaker and on the package that’s been presented,” he said.
Freedom Caucus asks

The Midwesterners weren’t the only members who have pushed for changes to the bill or who were in and out of McCarthy’s office Tuesday.

Several members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus wanted changes that would move up the effective date for work requirements for benefit programs like Medicaid and food stamps to fiscal 2024 instead of fiscal 2025, and to require 30 hours of work or related activities per week to qualify instead of 20 hours.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa., largely declined to comment leaving McCarthy’s office late Tuesday afternoon but said discussions were “evolving.” He said he’d “love” to see changes on the work requirements but that doesn’t mean he opposed the package in its current form.

“We want 218 votes,” Perry said.

Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, a Freedom Caucus member, said he supports the legislation and that he believes most members of the group are on board. He said “a couple” members have questions about the bill.

“Members are entitled to have questions. Everybody’s given a voting card,” Donalds said. “I don’t control everybody’s voting card, but I think by the time we hit the floor, I think we’re going to have the votes that we need to get it passed.”

While McCarthy met with the Midwesterners, the Republican whip team met to discuss leadership’s plan to hold firm on trying to pass the bill without adjustments. They had planned to conduct a new whip count on the bill to see if leadership had convinced enough members to back the measure as introduced.

“I think the bill actually at the end of the day will pass in its current form,” whip team member Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., said.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., told reporters GOP leaders would “go through all the final details” with members during their Wednesday morning conference meeting. That includes the Congressional Budget Office score released Tuesday that estimates the bill would save $4.8 trillion over 11 years.

“On any major package like this, people want to see how much is this going to save taxpayers,” Scalise said.

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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