Republicans Plot Their Debt Ceiling Showdown Strategy

Republicans Plot Their Debt Ceiling Showdown Strategy


Republicans are threatening to use the need to raise the nation’s $31.4 trillion debt limit as leverage in negotiations over the federal budget, with the goal of reducing spending in Washington. Thus far, however, they have not been able to say exactly what it is they want to cut.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says Republicans are planning their strategy now. “They’re in the middle of a conversation that is very healthy — lots of members have lots of ideas, and they’re in the process of sorting through them now,” Gingrich told The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein. “They are trying to find serious, real changes that move the pattern of the debt by significantly reducing wasteful government spending, put it together in a form the country understands, and then offer a package that has so many good ideas the president can’t reject all of them.”

According to Stein, the proposals currently under discussion include:

* Slash discretionary spending: The discretionary part of the budget now totals $1.6 trillion, or roughly 30% of the federal budget, and some Republicans are considering across-the-board cuts that would impose spending levels from 2022, while holding that level of funding in place for several years. Some lawmakers are calling for exceptions to the rule, however, and want to protect defense and veterans funding from any cuts, reducing the potential impact of the move. Cutting funding for programs such as Pell Grants and the National Institutes of Health could also prove to be politically unpopular.

* Cut Social Security and Medicare: While Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has said mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicare will not be part of the negotiations, other Republicans have long pushed for substantial changes to reduce outlays. Potential modifications include raising the retirement age for Social Security and altering the way payments are made in Medicare.

* Cut IRS funding: Republicans are still furious about the $80 billion in additional funding over 10 years provided to IRS in the Inflation Reduction Act and are reportedly interested in demanding that most of it be taken back.

* Recover Covid funds: Congress spent several trillion dollars on the federal response to Covid-19, and GOP lawmakers are talking about using any unspent funds to reduce the national debt. Only about $157 billion of that total remains, however, according to the nation’s comptroller general, which would amount to less than 1% of the national debt.

* New work requirements: Stricter work requirements usually translate into less participation in social welfare programs, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is reportedly trying to convince his colleagues to tighten the rules for a variety of federal programs in order to cut spending. The problem, though, is that most programs already have work requirements. “There aren’t that many places to go with work requirements that we have not gone already,” Brian Riedl, a conservative analyst at the right-wing Manhattan Institute analyst, told Stein.

* Crackdown at the border: This issue has little to do with cutting spending, but some lawmakers want to use a showdown over the debt ceiling to force a crackdown at the border with Mexico – perhaps as a consolation prize if Republicans are unable to win any substantial spending cuts. Policy changes could include blocking virtually all border crossings and tightening asylum laws.

* Drive right off the cliff: Some Republicans say they don’t believe defaulting on U.S. obligations would really be all that bad, and would teach an important lesson in any case. “We cannot raise the debt ceiling,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) said in January. “Democrats have carelessly spent our taxpayer money and devalued our currency. They've made their bed, so they must lie in it.”

GOP leadership has not embraced this position, but the influential Republican Study Committee has called for the Treasury to plan to prioritize payments in the event that the debt ceiling is breached – an untested strategy that many believe is tantamount to default.