House Republicans left Washington this week feeling triumphant about passing a bill that pairs a debt limit increase with steep spending cuts.
But vulnerable Republicans in battleground districts must now contend with Democrats aiming to weaponize their votes for a sweeping bill that none of them intended to be the final package.
“We are not surprised that so-called Republican moderates, who talk a good game, but at the end of the day always, always, always vote with the extremists,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in a press conference on Friday.
“They are going to have to answer for their hypocrisy,” Jeffries said.
Democrats have argued that the bill’s proposal to revert discretionary spending to fiscal 2022 levels would threaten programs for veterans and education; that increased work requirements for public assistance programs would hurt families; and that Republicans’ attempt to repeal green energy tax credits would threaten jobs and local economies.
“By siding with extreme MAGA Republicans and embracing a plan that would cause a catastrophic default in order to force an extreme, out-of-touch agenda, vulnerable Republicans are helping build the case against themselves for 2024,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spokesperson Tommy Garcia said in a statement.
House Majority Forward, a nonprofit affiliated with the Democratic leadership-aligned House Majority PAC, came out with a television ad campaign this week accusing Republicans of threatening to default on the national debt or “wildly slash things America cares about.”
But vulnerable Republicans are projecting confidence that the attacks won’t land.
“We have a secret strategy: We’re going to tell the truth,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) said.
“Members can go back to districts and communicate. But what we passed is responsible. And by the way, it’s the only plan out there. Folks don’t like it, they can offer an alternative and we can negotiate,” Hudson said.
“Democrats are gonna attack me no matter what I do. They attack me for voting with them,” said Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), adding he is not “wasting time worrying about what they’re gonna say.”
Republicans have dismissed Democrats saying the bill will hurt veterans. And they note the country was operating at fiscal 2022 levels until December of last year.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called Democratic attacks “audacious” and “crazy.”
“All we’re saying is we should spend exactly what we spent four months ago,” McCarthy said.
Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.) said that in an anonymous survey at one of his recent tele-town halls, listeners agreed 3 to 1 with limiting spending concurrently with raising the debt limit.
And Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) similarly said polling in his district — which has a high number of upper-income, college-educated voters — has found that “even my Democrats are almost becoming debt-phobic.”
“They think they’re pushing us off a plank, [but] they may be the ones about to fall into the ocean,” Schweikert said, referring to Democrats. “They may be behind the electoral curve.”
An April poll commissioned by the American Action Network, a nonprofit issue advocacy group aligned with House leadership, found that 50 percent of voters in 87 battleground House districts opposed raising the debt limit without cutting government spending — President Biden’s position on the matter — while 37 percent supported it.
Battleground seat Republicans acknowledge there are some provisions in the bill that could concern their constituents.
Midwestern Republicans’ resistance to provisions that would have eliminated tax credits for ethanol biofuels led GOP leadership to cave and remove that provision in the bill in the wee hours of the morning before the vote — demonstrating the serious implications of some of the provisions for members in tough districts.
But a key reason vulnerable Republicans are confident they can rationalize their votes to constituents is because the debt limit bill — which pairs a $1.5 trillion debt ceiling increase with around $4.8 trillion in deficit reductions over a decade — is because they see it as a way to bring Biden to the negotiating table rather than as a final package.
Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.) in a speech on the House floor expressed her concerns about the legislation repealing tax credits for green energy.
“These credits have been very beneficial for my constituents, attracting significant investment in new manufacturing jobs for businesses in southeast Virginia,” Kiggans said.
“I recognize that this bill is not the final product. But I also understand that it gets us to the negotiating table,” Kiggans said, ultimately voting in favor of the bill.
Kiggans asked on the House floor that she have the opportunity to address those concerns as negotiations move forward.
“It’s the starting point for a negotiation,” LaLota said.
New York Republicans, furthermore, have also hoped to use the negotiations to restore the state and local tax (SALT) deduction — a provision that did not make it into the House GOP’s bill.
“I’ll be candid,” LaLota added. “There’s not the support that we need for it today. But the support is growing, and we’re very determined to find the right time to make sure that our voices in New York are heard on that.”
Mike Lillis contributed.