House Republicans, Grasping for Votes, Alter Debt Limit Plan

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders on Wednesday were scrounging for the votes to pass legislation to raise the debt ceiling while cutting spending and unraveling major elements of President Biden’s domestic agenda, after a late-night haggling session in which they revised their fiscal plan in an effort to win over holdouts in their ranks.

The measure, which would cut federal spending by nearly 14 percent over a decade, would undo some of Mr. Biden’s clean energy tax credits and his student loan cancellation plan and impose stricter work requirements for federal nutrition and health programs. It would be dead on arrival in the Democratic-led Senate and at the White House, where Mr. Biden’s advisers have warned that it would draw his veto.

But Speaker Kevin McCarthy, whose reputation and influence were on the line in the steepest test he has faced since winning his post, has described the plan as a way to strengthen his hand as he seeks to force a debt confrontation with the president.

In a closed-door meeting with Republicans in the basement of the Capitol on Wednesday morning, Mr. McCarthy pleaded with his conference to back the measure so he could open negotiations with Mr. Biden, according to a person who attended the session and described his remarks on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. McCarthy hoped for a vote as early as Wednesday after agreeing to major changes in an effort to nail down the votes. He agreed to jettison a provision rolling back tax credits that the Biden administration put in place for ethanol, a change demanded by a bloc of Midwesterners. He also agreed to move up by a year, to 2024, the imposition of work requirements for Medicaid and food stamp recipients, bowing to far-right lawmakers who insisted on tougher terms for receiving public benefits.

Mr. Biden has demanded that Republicans increase the nation’s borrowing limit — which is projected to be reached as soon as this summer without action by Congress — with no conditions. Without a deal to do so, the United States would default on its debt, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

With a razor-thin majority and Democrats expected to be united in their opposition, Republican leaders could afford few defections.

Democrats were adamantly opposed to the Republican legislation, assailing it for across-the-board cuts to federal programs, stricter work requirements for qualifying for Medicaid and food stamps and a rollback of regulatory programs. They portrayed the plan as tantamount to holding the American economy ransom to far-right policy demands and denounced the last-minute changes.

“My analysis of this new plan is that it is even more draconian, even more devastating, even worse, even more mean,” said Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee. “Your problem with this bill was that it didn’t screw people fast enough.”

House Republicans moved to modify the legislation in the wee hours of Wednesday morning after a group of more than half a dozen holdouts became vocal about their opposition to the bill.

“I am dubious about Speaker McCarthy’s debt ceiling proposal,” Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona wrote on Twitter. “Going off the fiscal cliff at the Republicans’ 60-mph plan or the Democrats’ 80-mph plan results in the same thing: a horrific crash.”

Annie Karni contributed reporting.

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