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House GOP leaders work to tamp down rule fracas

No signs of imminent breakthrough; House Rules panel set to reconvene Monday

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., and members of the House Freedom Caucus hold a news conference to oppose the debt limit deal outside of the US Capitol on May 30.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., and members of the House Freedom Caucus hold a news conference to oppose the debt limit deal outside of the US Capitol on May 30. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

​Republican leaders spent another day trying to resolve an intraparty feud that ground House business to a halt for the week, but there was no sign of an imminent breakthrough that would quell a protest from hard-line conservatives.

With the House in recess Thursday, key Republicans spent much of the day shuffling in and out of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office, while saying as little as possible publicly on how they could unify the party in the aftermath of a debt limit deal that angered some in the GOP’s right flank.

“I think we’re making a lot of progress,” McCarthy said as he left the Capitol in the early afternoon. But it was clear there was no resolution to a conflict the California Republican a day earlier had said he hoped to resolve Wednesday night.

[Is House logjam a one-time event, or the new normal for McCarthy?]

Pennsylvania Republican Scott Perry, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, whose members drove the revolt, emerged from McCarthy’s office while deflecting questions about the nature of the conflict or the issues yet to be settled.

“Different members have different concerns,” Perry said.

And Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., who wasn’t part of the debt limit negotiations and isn’t a close McCarthy confidant, met with the speaker Thursday morning to discuss the impasse.

“It’s still a work in progress but it’s going well,” Scalise said.

The impasse began Tuesday when 11 hard-right conservatives derailed a vote on a rule that was needed to pass several bills on this week’s agenda. It was the first time a rule vote, which is typically carried by the majority party, went down on the floor since 2002.

Some Freedom Caucus members have said they were disturbed by last week’s debt limit package, which coupled a debt limit suspension with spending caps, because it allowed for more discretionary spending next year than the government spent in fiscal 2022. They have said McCarthy had promised to hold discretionary spending to fiscal 2022 levels in January when he won the speakership after 15 rounds of voting.

McCarthy denied making such an ironclad promise Wednesday. “We never promised we’re going to be all at ’22 levels,” he told reporters. “I said we would strive to get to the ’22 level or the equivalent … amount of cut. We’ve met all that criteria.”

The debt limit law set a defense spending cap at $886 billion, a roughly 3 percent increase over this year’s level, as President Joe Biden requested. Nondefense spending would be capped at $704 billion, a $40 billion or 5 percent reduction from fiscal 2023. However, the two parties made side deals, including add-ons above the statutory caps, that Democrats say would keep nondefense spending essentially flat.

In an attempt to placate their party’s right flank, McCarthy and GOP appropriators said those caps serve as a ceiling, but that the upcoming appropriations bills for fiscal 2024 could be written to lower spending levels.

[Deeper spending cuts may be in play to break House deadlock]

“There’s a number of additional cuts we want to make and we’ve been talking about that all along as we focus on an appropriations process that’s got to get going,” Scalise said Thursday.

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., who helped negotiate the bipartisan debt limit package for McCarthy and met with him Thursday, likewise suggested that appropriations could be lower than what the spending caps allow.

“The appropriations bills are certainly another opportunity for us to continue this trend of getting back to financial sustainability,” Grave said.

When asked if he was insisting on spending below the caps, Perry said, “I’m always for saving money. Always.”

Back on track?

Whether the intraparty rift is healed may not be clear until Monday, when the House is scheduled to reconvene.

In one possible sign things were starting to get back on track, the House Rules Committee scheduled a meeting for 4 p.m. Monday to consider the terms of debate for the four bills that saw their rule stymied earlier this week.

Those bills would require congressional approval for major administrative rulemakings; allow courts to decide cases involving regulatory actions without giving deference to the agency’s interpretation; and restrict the administration’s ability to regulate gas stoves. 

And a fifth measure was added to the agenda: Congressional Review Act legislation to overturn the Biden administration’s rule to strengthen regulations on firearms with stabilizing braces.

Conservatives were incensed earlier this week when they believed the bill from Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., was being deliberately withheld from the floor schedule as retribution for Clyde’s vote against the rule on the debt limit bill. Scalise later agreed to put the measure on the floor next week and issued a statement of support for the bill on Thursday, along with statements from Clyde and gun rights advocates.