Senate conservatives hesitant to heed call to delay debt ceiling bill

A potential fallback plan raised by some House conservatives to hold up the passage of a bipartisan bill to avert a federal default this week is drawing a cool reception in the upper chamber.

While a few hard-line House Republicans looked to their upper chamber colleagues to stall the debt ceiling deal as they called for leadership to find alternatives, those Senate allies were not quick to join the scheme.

“They should be slowing it down,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said of Republican senators on Tuesday. “They should be tanking it as much as they can as well.”

Senate conservatives have similarly expressed disappointment with the deal struck between President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), especially when stacked up against the partisan bill House Republicans passed that might have cut spending by trillions of dollars.

“I think this bill doesn’t do nearly enough,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told The Hill on Wednesday while saying he doesn’t plan to support the measure. He added the bill “gives up most of the budget savings from the bill originally passed by the House of Representatives.”

But pressed on whether he plans to use the tools in his arsenal to delay its passage, Cruz wouldn’t offer a hard answer just yet.

“We’ll see what happens first of all with the House today that the House is acting first,” Cruz said. “We’ll see what the votes are there, and then I imagine we’re going to have a vigorous debate in the Senate and numerous senators are planning to offer amendments, and we’ll see what happens with us.”

As part of the bill, dubbed the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, leaders on both sides agreed to suspend the debt ceiling through next year, while also laying out budget caps for fiscal 2024 and 2025. The bill also changes work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and it would claw back some unused coronavirus funds.

Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected on Tuesday that the bipartisan bill could reduce projected deficits by about $1.5 trillion over the next decade. A previous Republican bill preferred by much of the party was expected to trim more than $4 trillion during the same time frame.

So far, a few conservatives have signaled they plan to introduce amendments, which have been used in the past to slow down passage and hold up floor proceedings. But as a fiscal deadline to keep the nation from defaulting on its debt draws closer, some Senate Republicans don’t seem interested.

“I don’t think that does any good, the delay factor. You make your point through amendments,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said this week, while writing off tactics he described as “dramatics” or “gimmicks.”

While he opposes the bill, he added that if conservatives are allowed amendments, the passage could “be a smooth process.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) similarly said on Tuesday he doesn’t “see much desire over here to delay what’s probably gonna be the inevitable.”

“We are going to be obviously holding out so we get certain amendment votes. But let’s wait see what happens in the House and make a decision then,” he said, while also telling The Hill he won’t back the bill.

Among the amendments that could be up for consideration includes a proposal by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who said he’ll insist on a vote that seeks to “balance the budget in five years.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is expected to add to the amendment tally, while also taking aim at proposed regulatory reforms in the bill. But after vowing last week to use “every procedural tool” to delay passage of the bill if it didn’t include “substantial” reforms, Lee appeared to shift on Wednesday.

Lee also told The Hill he plans to file “four, five, six at the most” amendments to the bill. But he added he’ll probably “demand a vote on only one of them.”

“I’m not sure yet, I’m still looking at my options.”

But that also didn’t stop Lee from railing against the deal in remarks from the floor on Wednesday.

“This deal begs the question with Republicans like these who needs Democrats? We deserve better,” he said. “We deserve a deal that genuinely reflects the urgency of our economic challenges and delivers meaningful results.”

Congress has until Monday to address the debt ceiling or risk a federal default — an outcome experts warn could have devastating effects on economic growth.

The bill is expected to pass the House later Wednesday, teeing up for a vote in the Senate not long after.

“I can tell you what I hope happens is that those who have amendments, if given votes, will yield back time so that we can finish this Thursday or Friday and soothe the country and soothe the markets,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday.

Alexander Bolton contributed.

Updated at 6:33 p.m.

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