House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) warned Thursday that Democrats will reject any government spending bills that fall below the caps established in the bipartisan debt ceiling package, setting up a potential clash with Republicans when Congress seeks to prevent a shutdown later in the year.
Asked if his caucus would back spending bills if Republicans insist on new cuts, Jeffries didn’t hesitate.
“No,” he said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “Thank you for asking such a clear question.”
The red line sets up a likely collision between the parties later in the year, when Congress must act to extend government funding or face a partial shutdown. The deadline is the end of the current fiscal year: Sept. 30.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who helped negotiate the debt ceiling package with President Biden, emphasized this week that the agreed-upon caps represent the maximum amount Congress is permitted to spend, suggesting he would fight for levels that fall below those upper limits.
“Whenever you put a cap, that’s the ceiling,” he told reporters Wednesday. “We can always spend less. I’ve always advocated for spending less money.”
McCarthy’s comments came amid a revolt from conservatives who are accusing the Speaker of ceding too much to Biden in the debt ceiling negotiations and now fear he won’t hold the party line in demanding sharper spending cuts in September’s government funding debate.
“The Speaker formed a coalition with Democrats to get us a $4 trillion national debt, and I continue to be concerned because he hasn’t repudiated that coalition,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a former chairman of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, said this week after conservatives had blocked all floor activity.
“And my guess is he’s prepared to do that again on the next three must-pass bills: Farm Bill, NDAA, and the budget.”
Heading into last month’s debt ceiling fight, the parties were miles apart in their demands. Behind Biden, Democrats insisted on a “clean” debt limit increase, with no provisions governing future spending. Behind McCarthy, Republicans demanded a decade of caps, beginning with putting 2024 spending at 2022 levels — a reduction of roughly $130 billion.
The compromise featured something in the middle, establishing spending caps in 2024, when nondefense discretionary spending is essentially frozen at 2023 levels, and in 2025, when all discretionary programs will get a 1 percent hike.
Defense spending was treated differently, getting a bump of roughly 3 percent next year and another 1 percent in 2025.
Complicating the debate for McCarthy are the concessions he made to conservatives in January, when he made them a series of promises in return for their votes to make him Speaker. Some conservatives say one of those promises was not to accept anything less than 2022 spending levels in 2024 — a stipulation McCarthy is disputing this week.
“We never promised we’re going to be all at ’22 levels. I said we would strive to get to the ’22 level, or the equivalent of that amount in cuts,” he said Wednesday. “We met all that criteria.”
McCarthy has defended the agreement, noting that there’s no governing without compromise in a divided Washington. He’s accusing the conservatives of being unrealistic in their rigid demand to see the GOP’s partisan wish list become law.
“Any time you try to work any type of agreement, you’re not going to get 100 percent of what you want,” McCarthy said. “Did I want more? Yes. But now we move on to the next level. We move to appropriations.”