Apr 27, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: GOP doubles down on debt limit bill with ad buy

House Republicans are putting their money where their mouths are with a new ad attacking Democrats for voting against Speaker Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) debt ceiling bill, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The two parties are digging in on their negotiating positions and preparing for a protracted battle on how to avoid a debt default — as well as who is to blame if America fails to pay its bills.

  • House Democrats are already running ads slamming the $130 billion in spending cuts that Republicans tied to a debt ceiling hike, arguing they will decimate critical programs related to health care, food assistance, veterans benefits and more.
  • Now Republicans are racing to define their plans on their own terms — and create leverage out of what Democrats insist is a political liability.

Driving the news: The American Action Network, an issue advocacy nonprofit closely aligned with House Republicans, is launching a six-figure ad buy hitting House Democrats for voting against the bill.

  • The spots, first obtained by Axios, allege Democrats "refused to responsibly raise the debt ceiling. They voted against saving billions in unspent COVID funds, rejected cutting red tape to lower your costs."
  • The ads also take aim at President Biden over his refusal to sit down with McCarthy unless the House passes a clean debt ceiling increase: "Instead of negotiating common-sense solutions, they're putting the economy in crisis."

The intrigue: The ads will run in the districts of 11 vulnerable House Democrats, including the five whose voters backed former President Trump in 2020.

  • They are Reps. Mary Peltola (Alaska), Yadira Caraveo (Colo.), Jared Golden (Maine), Dan Kildee (Mich.), Wiley Nickel (N.C.), Gabe Vasquez (N.M.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Emilia Sykes (Ohio), Susan Wild (Pa.), Matt Cartwright (Pa.) and Marie Pérez (Wash.).
  • The ads will also target Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries’ (D-N.Y.) district and two of his committee ranking members, Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.).

Between the lines: The ad buy signals a bullishness by GOP operatives that they can win the debate over the debt ceiling if they go on offense.

  • AAN polling earlier this month found that in 87 battleground districts, 50% of voters oppose increasing the debt ceiling without cutting spending — and 53% say they are more closely aligned with McCarthy and Republicans' position on the issue.
  • The survey also polled the bill's provisions: 77% favor reclaiming unspent COVID funds, 62% support enhanced welfare work requirements and 53% support reducing discretionary spending to pre-pandemic levels.
  • While all Democrats voted against the bill, some have expressed anxiety about Biden's refusal to negotiate and acknowledged spending cuts of some form will likely need to be on the table to raise the debt ceiling.

What we're watching: Some House conservatives have said that, while they supported McCarthy's bill, they won't lend their votes to a bill with watered-down cuts.

  • "This is the deal," Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) said of his support for the measure. "And we need to be willing to walk away if the Senate and the president don't accept this."
  • The ads, leveraging the ostensible popularity of the cuts, could serve to harden that position.

The other side: "While President Biden and Democrats have put forward a plan that tackles the deficit after already reducing it by $1.5 trillion, Republicans are driving us even closer to default," said CJ Warnke, a spokesperson for the Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC.

  • "House Majority PAC will ensure that the vulnerable Republicans who supported this bill will be voted out in 2024."
  • HMP's issue advocacy arm, House Majority Forward, has taken aim at the bill's across-the-board discretionary spending cuts for the upcoming fiscal year with ads that accuse Republicans of trying to "wildly slash things America cares about."
  • "Education, clean air and water, even cancer research," says one ad, which is running in New York districts. "Default or destroy, just MAGA Republican extremism at its worst."

The big picture: Goldman Sachs on Wednesday adjusted its drop-dead deadline for raising the debt ceiling to late July, potentially giving lawmakers a few more weeks of leeway to come to a solution.

  • McCarthy's bill is expected to hit a brick wall, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) signaling firm opposition and the White House threatening a veto.
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