The House Freedom Caucus launched its opening salvo in the upcoming fight over raising the nation’s debt ceiling Friday, as members of the conservative group said they would agree to raise the debt limit for the first time in their careers if several of President Biden’s legislative accomplishments are rolled back and strict limits on government spending are implemented.
“Members of the House Freedom Caucus, who have never voted for a continual debt ceiling increases, will support a solution to responsibly address the impending debt ceiling crisis,” said Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry, the group’s chairman, in a press conference Friday. “Simply put, the plan is to shrink Washington and grow America.”
Many in the Freedom Caucus, which numbers over 40 members, were among the detractors who sought concessions from Rep. Kevin McCarthy before agreeing to support his election as House speaker — and others ultimately voted “present” rather than support him. The Republican majority in the House is a slim one, just 9 votes. Without the Freedom Caucus’ support, McCarthy risks a rebellion from his right flank. Perry and other members of the Freedom Caucus expressed confidence that McCarthy would not cut a deal with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling.
The group wants to hold spending levels at 2022 fiscal-year levels for 10 more years, which it says would save $3 billion in the long term.
In the near term, the caucus members want to pull back money already appropriated by the Democratic-led Congress during the first two years of Mr. Biden’s term, taking aim at some of his signature legislative accomplishments: blocking his $400 billion student loan forgiveness plan, which is currently making its way through the courts, pulling back unspent COVID-19 funds that haven’t yet been allocated, recouping $80 billion for the IRS to bolster its workforce and replace retiring employees and cancelling billions of dollars allocated for climate change projects through the climate, health care and tax law passed last year.
The group also proposes policies it says will help domestic growth — by limiting the administration’s ability to write new regulations and ending other rules related to domestic energy production. The Freedom Caucus also wants to see the implementation of 1990s-era work requirements on welfare programs that passed under President Bill Clinton.
The group unveiled its plan a day after President Biden unveiled his $6.9 budget, which the White House claims would reduce the deficit by nearly $3 trillion over the next decade by raising trillions of dollars in taxes on the wealthy and corporations. House Republicans have not yet released their budget, but McCarthy has rejected the notion of a “clean” debt ceiling increase with no spending cuts. The president and speaker last met in early February to talk about spending.
In a statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the Freedom Caucus proposal “a gut-punch to the American middle class” that wouldn’t reduce the deficit.
“Extreme MAGA Republicans’ proposals would ship manufacturing jobs overseas, in a crushing blow to states from Ohio to Georgia to Arizona – and would provide a windfall of economic benefits to China,” she said. She went on to say that they would cut Medicare, defund police, weaken U.S. efforts to compete with China and cut border security funding — all to provide tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
Perry insisted that under this plan, “the benefits under Social Security and Medicare are not going to be cut.”
“A default on our debt would trigger an economic and financial catastrophe,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee Friday. “I urge all members of Congress to come together to address the debt limit without conditions and without waiting until the last minute.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that at a date between July and September the U.S. will be unable to meet its debt obligations if Congress does not act.