Corrected 8:19 p.m. | Rep. Thomas Massie, the Kentucky Republican who said Tuesday he would cast a key vote in the House Rules Committee to advance a bipartisan debt limit package to the House floor, was an unlikely supporter for controversial legislation backed by a party leader.
Support from Massie, who joined the panel earlier this year as part of an agreement with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, appeared to keep lawmakers’ efforts to avoid a debt default as soon as June 5 on track. Massie’s opposition, along with that of two other conservatives added to the panel after the prolonged battle in January to pick a speaker, could have derailed the measure.
“My interest in being on this committee was not to imprint my ideology. I think that is an inappropriate use of the Rules Committee,” Massie said Tuesday afternoon as the committee considered the agreement reached by McCarthy and President Joe Biden over the weekend. “I anticipate voting for this rule and when people want to express their ideology, the floor of the House on the actual final passage of the bill is the place to do that.”
Massie had said on Twitter over the weekend that raising the debt limit “does not spend money,” and that spending bills Congress would have to enact later this year were how the GOP could have its biggest impact on the total budget.
Since first winning a seat in Congress in 2012, Massie has been willing to disrupt plans crafted by GOP leaders. Before McCarthy in January, he had opposed leading Republican candidates for speaker, and had not supported omnibus spending bills.
He was often one of the House Republicans least likely to vote for legislation supported by then-President Donald Trump, according to CQ Vote Studies. His support for Trump varied from a low of 43 percent in 2018, when Republicans controlled the chamber, to a high of 81 percent in 2019 when Democrats took control. That 81 percent ranked him 191st among House Republicans, with only 11 members of the conference voting less often to support Trump.
In 2020, Trump denounced Massie as a “third rate grandstander” and said he should be kicked out of the party for forcing House members to return to Washington for a roll call vote on a COVID-19 relief package in the early days of the pandemic. Massie easily won the Republican primary in 2020, however, and sailed to reelection in a safe red district that year and again last year. Massie recently endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former House colleague, for president.
During the first two years of Biden’s presidency, Massie supported the president’s position on legislation just 4 percent of the time.
His vote Tuesday was pivotal because two other conservatives who were added to the Rules Committee earlier this year — Reps. Chip Roy of Texas and Ralph Norman of South Carolina — were outspoken in opposing the McCarthy-Biden agreement. If Massie had joined them, it would have required support from a Democrat on the panel for the bill to go to the floor, a situation that usually does not happen on a committee often described as a tool of the speaker.
Roy and Norman blasted the agreement shortly after it was announced, and before the committee met, joined several colleagues at a news conference outside the Capitol attacking it. Roy said there would be a “reckoning” for any Republican who supported the bill.
Massie said he supported a “redeeming portion” of the debt agreement that would implement a 1 percent cut to both defense spending and nondefense spending if all 12 appropriations bills are not signed into law by Jan. 1 during fiscal years 2024 and 2025. The cuts would have to be applied if Congress adopts a continuing resolution to keep the government operating while it works to adopt a full spending package.
“Everybody is going to be in this, responsible for the outcome. And that is where the spending happens,” Massie said.
Ahead of Tuesday’s Rules Committee hearing, Massie also offered an amendment to try to deal with future debt limit standoffs. It would require the Treasury Department to prioritize certain payment obligations based on a five-tier system if the government has reached its statutory borrowing limit.
This report was corrected to accurately reflect Massie’s comments in support of the expected rule governing House floor debate of the debt limit bill.
Ryan Kelly contributed to this report.