Updated: Mar 16
This morning, the House Freedom Caucus— both the most extreme edge of the House GOP and the party’s trend-setters— demanded about $130 billion in spending cuts, a cap on federal agencies’ future budgets and the end of Biden’s economic agenda in return for not driving the country over the fiscal cliff and crashing the world economy. Top Washington Post reporters,Tony Romm, Jeff Stein and Marianna Sotomayor, wrote that they are insisting on steeper spending cuts than most Republicans have been considering.
The ultimatum came from Pennsylvania’s fascist insurrectionist, Scott Perry, threatening “to deal a massive blow to government health care, education, science and labor programs. Seeking tougher work requirements on welfare recipients and the repeal of federal funds to fight coronavirus and climate change, the conservatives’ wish list appeared to complicate the work to clinch a deal and avert a looming fiscal calamity.”
Pervez Agwan, the progressive candidate running for Congress in Houston, saw the same report today. It just fired him up even more. “At a time when Americans are struggling with record inflation,” he told me, “and nearly 60% are living paycheck to paycheck, it is unconscionable that the GOP continues to threaten the very programs that keep average everyday folks afloat. The GOP has time and time again shown itself to push the agendas of their billionaire donors and ignore the working class of this country.”
The trio of Post reporters wrote that Perry and his cronies are risking a default and recession if the Republicans block Biden from continuing to pay government debts, much of them incurred while Trump was president and these members voted for his agenda and massive tax cuts. Los Angeles Congresswoman Nanette Barragan, newly elected chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told me this morning she sees this as the Freedom Caucus wanting “to hold the U.S. economy hostage unless Congress repeals critical climate and environmental justice investments that will reduce pollution, cut energy costs, and create jobs in all our communities. We cannot give in to their radical demands. I support President Biden’s proposed budget to increase investments in clean energy, fight climate change, and repeal billions in fossil fuel subsidies. That is a responsible approach that benefits the American people, not fossil fuel interests.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reminded Republicans— and the public— that “Since 1789, the United States has always paid its bills on time. It must continue to do so. In my assessment— and that of economists across the board— a default on our debt would trigger an economic and financial catastrophe.” Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee she said “I urge all members of Congress to come together to address the debt limit— without conditions and without waiting until the last minute.”
Adam Schiff represents the part of L.A. I live in and, as you no doubt know, he's running for the U.S. Senate right now. I asked him and the other 2 Congressmembers who are running. I haven't heard back from Katie and Barbara's comms guy said he hasn't been able to get a quote yet. But late today, Adam told me that from his perspective, "Republicans in Congress are hell-bent on obstructing any economic progress Joe Biden and Democrats want to deliver to the American people, even if the cost is harming their constituents who rely on Medicaid and Social Security. In fact, Republicans could care less if seniors, students, and working families get hurt, as long as they can enrich their big supporters. These Republican-proposed budgets are as dangerous as they are revealing— and they reveal a party indifferent to anyone but the most affluent. Democrats must fight to ensure these bad ideas never become law."
Romm, Stein and Sotomayor noted that this morning the extremists said “would only supply their votes in exchange for significant policy changes, many of which target Biden’s signature economic priorities. Appearing at a news conference, Perry said the goal is to ‘shrink Washington.’ … The far-right caucus called for clawing back nearly $400 billion to boost clean energy and combat pollution in the Inflation Reduction Act, for example, and an end to the ‘student loan bailout,’ as Perry described it, referring to the president’s debt cancellation measure, which is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling. They also targeted the roughly $80 billion recently approved to help the IRS pursue tax cheats, arguing it empowers the government to target innocent Americans. That move could add to the deficit, however, since it could prevent Washington from collecting money it is owed. Conservatives further pushed for regulatory reform legislation, while emphasizing the need for tougher work requirements on food stamps, Medicaid and other programs that aim to help low-income Americans. Democrats contend these efforts could result in millions of deserving families being forced off federal benefits, since a wide array of federal anti-poverty initiatives already require beneficiaries to seek employment.”
Bonnie Watson Coleman, the only real progressive member of New Jersey’s congressional delegation told me that “These far right extremists represent a small minority of even their own party. The gall they have to make such insane demands is astounding. The idea that the Freedom Caucus would make these demands of President Biden and impose their extreme agenda on the rest of us is outrageous. If they want to go toe-to-toe with the rest of the country and make attacks on health care, education, and labor protections I have one thing to say to them, ‘bring it on.’ The rest of the country is not aligned with their extreme ideology that is anti-family, anti-child, anti-worker, anti-education, and anti-science.”
The demands illustrate the delicate task ahead for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, whose election to the chamber’s top leadership post in January exposed the political fissures in his new, razor-thin majority. Even as Republicans have presented a united front to the White House— demanding that Biden accept spending cuts in exchange for their votes on the debt ceiling— GOP lawmakers have yet to rally around a single set of demands.
A senior moderate Republican in the House, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the party’s internal dynamics, described the conservatives’ ultimatum on Friday as unhelpful while talks continue among the GOP’s leaders and competing factions. Perry, meanwhile, later said he is “pretty optimistic” that other Republicans might support his caucus’s plans.
Only a day earlier, Biden put forward his long-awaited budget for the 2024 fiscal year, proposing more than $2 trillion in sweeping new social policy initiatives along with a slew of new tax increases, largely targeting corporations and the wealthy. While the president’s plan would add roughly $1.8 trillion to the deficit next fiscal year, it would reduce the government’s imbalance by nearly $3 trillion over the next decade.
Immediately, Republicans derided Biden’s spending blueprint, which included policies they have long opposed. Many conservatives, in particular, stressed that the White House did not go far enough to meaningfully address the country’s debt, especially after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office last month predicted the federal shortfall is likely to surge by $19 trillion over the next 10 years.
“It’s a scam. It’s a reckless proposal,” said Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter (R-GA), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, in an interview Thursday. “I think what it does is to reinforce the fact that we need to demand spending cuts because [Biden] is not going to make them.”
Republicans plan to release their own spending blueprint later this spring. Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said he hopes to identify as much as $150 billion in cuts for the 2024 fiscal year. He and others have also signaled they could try to demand caps on future spending as part of the debt ceiling debate. In a recent interview, he said he believes “you’re going to see the conference coalesce around a set of fiscal reforms and spending controls and savings, and I think that’s going to happen in the near future.”
Yet some conservatives still have pushed their party to go further— and pursue even steeper reductions targeting federal health care, education, labor and science-related agencies.
“We have to go over the $200 billion mark to make a difference,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), another caucus member, pledging to strip “woke dollars” from the federal ledger.
Adding to the difficulty, Arrington must also help deliver on one of McCarthy’s key commitments to conservatives: a plan to balance the federal budget within 10 years. That could require Republicans to identify even steeper reductions, perhaps totaling $16 trillion, in a move that could expose the party to sharp political attacks.
Ted Lieu (D-CA), a member of the House Democratic leadership, told me this afternoon that "Extreme MAGA Republicans are engaged in what amounts to economic hostage taking, and giving in to their demands will only encourage them to hold hostage the full faith and credit of the United States again and again. They are threatening to tank our national economy unless we enact severe spending cuts on social programs that help the most vulnerable people in our society. Republicans are the last people we should listen to-- they have zero credibility on the debt and deficit. The GOP had complete control of government twice over the past two decades and each time they cut taxes for the wealthy and exploded the deficit. In fact, 25% of the entire national debt was wracked up in the four years that Trump was President."