Republican senators want budget cuts in exchange for lifting the nation’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, but they say the onus is on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to use his leverage to pass a budget with GOP priorities and negotiate a deal with Democrats to avoid a U.S. default on its debt.
The hands-off approach is in stark contrast to the previous Congress, when Senate Republicans forged bipartisan spending agreements with the White House and the chamber’s fiscal conservatives jockeyed for influence.
But with GOP leverage having swung to the other side of the Capitol, Republican senators are prodding their House counterparts to do the dirty work of handling the budget and debt ceiling — no matter how politically tough the votes may be for budget hawks.
“[House Republicans] are going to have to produce a budget, a debt ceiling bill and appropriations bills that very fiscal conservative people will vote for. It’s crucial that Republicans in the House pass these things with Republican votes,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican. “When you’re in the majority, it’s up to you to do that. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy for them.”
While GOP senators still have leverage thanks to the 60-vote filibuster threshold, Sen. Ted Cruz argued that the real “opportunity to stop the madness” of overspending and to force Democrats to the negotiating table lies with the House.
“We are at a moment in time, because the American people elected a Republican majority in the House, where we have an opportunity to stop the madness,” the Texas Republican said. “I believe it is incumbent on that Republican majority, and Republicans in the Senate, to use every lever point we have to stop the out-of-control spending that is driving inflation and punishing hard-working Americans.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has bowed out of the debate, handing the reins over to Mr. McCarthy and taking a back seat approach to the saga that is expected to unfold over the coming months as Congress approaches a June deadline to avoid default.
The Kentucky Republican’s colleagues support the strategy.
“It is a House responsibility to start these things. Kevin’s got this majority. Let’s see if there’s something 218 Republicans can agree to over there,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, North Dakota Republican. “I don’t think Mitch is in a hurry to bail them out.”
Mr. McConnell told reporters this week he “can’t imagine” a bipartisan debt ceiling provision coming from the Democratic-led Senate “could actually pass this particular House.”
“The final solution to this particular episode lies between Speaker McCarthy and the president,” he said. “I wish him well in talking to the president.”
Mr. McCarthy is set to meet with Mr. Biden on a yet-to-be-announced date.
House Republicans, Senate Democrats and Mr. Biden have dug in their heels as the GOP demands spending cuts and Democrats refuse to negotiate. Details are slim on what Republicans want to cut, drawing criticism from Democrats that they lack a substantive plan yet intend to slash entitlement benefits like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Wednesday he intends to meet with Mr. McCarthy in the near future but that his message would be: “show us your plan.”
“McConnell made the argument for us,” the New York Democrat said. “He says the House has to go first. We’re just taking that one little step further and saying, yes, not only do they have to go first, they have to show us a plan.”