McCarthy's Debt Ceiling Gambit Gets Senate Republican Support (for Now)

Now that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has put forward a proposal to raise the debt ceiling but have it tied to government spending cuts, a lot of the suspected apprehension from Senate Republicans appears to be dissipating a bit, leading some to even be optimistic that a bipartisan deal that would include spending cuts may be possible.


Earlier this morning, Punchbowl News detailed in its morning newsletter that McCarthy’s gambit appears to finally have Senate Republican support – or, at least, it doesn’t have their opposition.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s debt-limit strategy relies on two basic assumptions.

No. 1: He’ll be able to pass the House GOP’s new 320-page bill next week with Republican votes only.

No. 2: Senate Republicans will back McCarthy up and reject Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s bid to pass any clean debt-limit hike, forcing President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats to the negotiating table.

As of now, even the GOP senators most prone to deal-making say they’ll oppose a clean debt-limit bill — a positive development for McCarthy in this saga. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it very clear that this is McCarthy’s fight and he will back up the speaker as needed.

We canvassed moderate Senate Republicans over the last few days and found just one who seemed even remotely open to voting for a clean debt-limit hike at some point in the future. Of course, it’s still early, and this issue will only get more complicated if the threat of a debt default draws closer over the next two months.


They have multiple Senators on the record with them indicating at least tacit approval of the upcoming showdown with the Biden administration. Todd Young, Susan Colline, and Mitt Romney all seem at least a little on board – with Romney, in particular, telling Punchbowl “I support the effort that Speaker McCarthy is undertaking.”

“Assuming he’s able to get a proposal on the table,” he also said, “I think that puts enormous pressure on the White House to finally negotiate. And that’s what standing between us and getting the deal done.”

It does seem like Senate Republicans are warming up to a fight they previously weren’t willing to engage in. However, they are still treating it as McCarthy’s fight and one they are simply backing, not doing any of their own legwork on.

But that may also be what McCarthy wants on his path to securing a positive legacy as House Speaker. And House conservatives seem happy enough with McCarthy’s proposal because they understand something the Democrats don’t seem to: Republicans have absolutely nothing to lose in this fight. They will be portrayed as losers no matter what. Either their cuts will be “draconian” and too extreme and it will “surely hurt them with American voters” (it won’t), or they will be seen as having lost as capitulated to Joe Biden, who the press desperately wants to give a win to.


But the longer this drags on, the more the situation turns against Biden. His refusal to negotiate when McCarthy has laid out his starting point will put him on the hot seat rather than McCarthy. That pressure does give McCarthy leverage in the long run – Biden can’t risk any more negative sentiment from the American public going into a re-election year.

If the House leadership team doesn’t cave first.

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