WASHINGTON (AP) — A key centrist House Republican has ruled out a last-ditch effort to avoid a disastrous debt default, which would necessitate a small number of GOP lawmakers defying Speaker Kevin McCarthy and working with Democrats on a legislative solution.
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said Monday evening that using a discharge petition to force a House vote on a “clean” debt limit increase was doomed from the start. The mechanism requires 218 signatories to ensure a vote on a bill, even if the speaker does not want to bring it up. In the current House, that means at least six Republicans and all Democrats.
“I believe it’s dead,” Bacon told reporters outside the Capitol. “Because the president has to make some concessions to Republicans. No way was he going to say “my way or the highway.”
Bacon is one of the House’s most centrist Republicans. He’s been dubbed the “Joe Manchin of the House GOP,” after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a centrist Democrat known for defying his party, and he represents an Omaha-based district that President Joe Biden won in 2020.
Bacon has been an outspoken critic of his party’s far right wing, which has threatened to withdraw support for raising the debt ceiling unless Biden makes conservative policy concessions. He previously left the door open for a discharge petition as a last resort, but he is now closing it. If Bacon isn’t on board, no Republican is likely to be.
On Monday, Bacon stepped up his criticism of Democrats who argue that paying the nation’s bills is non-negotiable and that fiscal policy discussions should be separate from debt ceiling negotiations. “They’re the bankrupt party,” he explained. “They want bankruptcy.”
“We’re not here to rubber stamp this spending,” he continued.
Bacon’s stance pleases ultraconservatives such as Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., a critic of McCarthy, R-Calif.
“I’m delighted to hear that,” Good said Monday night. “I hadn’t heard that, but I’m glad to hear he said that.”
McCarthy’s remarks earlier in the day demanding that Biden “sit down and negotiate” and “commit to finding common ground on a responsible debt limit increase,” as well as “move towards a balanced budget,” were praised by Good. McCarthy’s speech did not include any specific spending cuts.
Rep. Ralph Norman, R-South Carolina, said Republicans are working on a specific spending-cut plan that can garner 218 votes and could be introduced in the coming weeks.
“We’re going to be specific. We’re simply getting through it. “I need 218 votes,” he said. “It’ll be written down.”
In recent weeks, as Congress has been unable to agree on a path forward, congressional insiders and Wall Street analysts have floated the idea of a discharge petition as a failsafe mechanism to ensure the United States does not default on its debt. The Treasury Department has set a deadline of June 5 for Congress to act or risk exceeding the debt ceiling.
Republicans, according to White House spokesman Andrew Bates, are attempting to “actively throw our economy into a tailspin with a default — which they have a nonnegotiable, constitutional duty to prevent.”
For the time being, Democrats say they have no plans to file a discharge petition to raise the debt ceiling, arguing that it is the responsibility of the House majority to find a solution.
“I’ve always emphasised how difficult it is to successfully pull off a discharge petition,” said Pennsylvania Rep. Brendan Boyle, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee. “There’s a reason it’s happened only once in the last ten years. As a result, Plan A should be avoided.”