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Jeffries: GOP ‘driving us toward a government shutdown’

Democratic leader calls faction of the majority ‘irresponsible individuals’

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., slammed House Republicans over spending and tax demands on Thursday.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., slammed House Republicans over spending and tax demands on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The top House Democrat on Thursday warned some Republicans are “driving us toward a government shutdown” and called the majority’s most conservative bloc “irresponsible individuals.”

Some House Freedom Caucus members and their far-right allies last week shut down the chamber floor after opposing a rule for several bills they supported over frustrations about the debt and spending deal Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., reached with President Joe Biden. The 11 rebels relented Monday evening, but not before the speaker agreed to craft most fiscal 2024 appropriations bills at fiscal 2022 spending levels.

Senate appropriators intend to write their versions of the same bills to spending caps set by the McCarthy-Biden deal at fiscal 2023 levels. The possibility that conservatives would move to boot McCarthy from the speakership if he seeks to send Biden bills that spend more than 2022 toplines is prompting government shutdown fears.

“We’re going to see how the Appropriations Committee ends in terms of its process and it’s our view that a resolution was reached and was voted on in a bipartisan way,” Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said of the McCarthy-Biden debt and spending package.

“And at the end of the day, any spending agreement that is arrived at by the end of the year has to be consistent with the resolution of the default process — otherwise, what was it all for?” said Jeffries, his voice rising. “Why did we try avoiding a default to make sure that America pays its bills with a topline spending agreement? What was it all for? Because now all we’re engaging in is right-wing theater designed to jam extreme, painful cuts down the throats of the American people. And Democrats will not let it happen.”

But the conservative bloc, and other House Republicans, see a major federal spending addiction. Some House GOP members who expressed frustrations with the rebels also said this week that McCarthy should have pressed Biden harder to ensure their compromise package actually cut spending, rather than mostly holding it stable.

Rep. Nancy Mace said Tuesday the deal the speaker cut with the president was “a bunch of bulls**t.”

“I mean, seriously … if you say you’re going to make a cut, then make them put that in writing,” the South Carolina Republican said in a brief interview. “And this bill was not a cut. And so what I think is, if I’m correct, they’ll go through the appropriations process, and then in the Senate, and it’ll come back and it won’t be what we said it was going to be. … It certainly creates a problem.”

Jeffries looks at some Republicans and sees members for whom “shutting down the government is in their DNA,” he said Thursday, calling them “irresponsible individuals.”

“They don’t care about government. And so what we see right now, taking place in the appropriations process, is perhaps an effort by some extreme MAGA Republicans to drive us toward a government shutdown,” Jeffries told reporters. “And that’s a shame.”

When some of the conservative rebels emerged from the kind of backroom meeting on Monday evening with McCarthy, they were asked about prospects the appropriations process would cater to their demands of fiscal 2022 levels. “It better,” Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida shot back.

Jeffries’ Thursday press conference came after the release of a budget plan from a larger GOP faction that would, among other things, gradually raise the age at which future retirees could claim full Social Security benefits from 67 to 69. House Appropriations Democrats this week also blasted their GOP colleagues for keeping a bigger slice of the fiscal 2024 earmark funding pie.

And Jeffries was joined by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., in criticizing a tax package the Ways and Means Committee advanced this week on party-line votes.

Deriding the “GOP tax scam, part two,” the top House Democrat described the package as “legislation that will benefit billionaires and wealthy corporations, and continue this pattern of Republicans engaging in public policy that is designed to give major giveaways to those who are already not paying their fair share.”

“There’s no pathway toward finding common ground,” he said, dousing any potential for a bipartisan compromise, especially since the Ways and Means measures would have to clear the Democratic-run Senate and get Biden’s signature.

The GOP-controlled committee’s bills would, among other things, raise the standard deduction, bring back tax breaks for corporations and nix tax credits for electric vehicles and other clean-energy items that Democrats enacted last Congress. The panel also is proposing to extend key parts of the 2017 tax overhaul that was enacted with no Democratic support and signed by President Donald Trump.

Schumer on Thursday pointed to a White House roundtable focused on eliminating so-called junk fees consumers pay as evidence of his party’s priorities. He contrasted that to Republicans “cutting taxes for the very largest billion-dollar corporations,” adding: “Democrats want to focus on things ordinary families have to deal with every single day.”

Avery Roe and Laura Weiss contributed to this report.

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