WASHINGTON — Republicans, newly empowered with a majority in the House of Representatives, are demanding spending cuts as the price for raising the debt ceiling and avoiding a catastrophic default on the US debt.

But they are struggling to identify what to cut, complicating Chairman Kevin McCarthy’s task of passing a bill with his narrow majority.

“There have to be cuts in spending. That has to happen,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, an ally of McCarthy, a Republican from California, and the far right.

But she refused to be specific when asked what should be cut.

“I haven’t really formulated an exact list,” he said.

Republicans are split on whether Medicare and Social Security spending should be on the chopping block. They are divided on whether military funding should be on the table. They strongly oppose new tax revenue to reduce debt. They say they are willing to cut domestic non-defense spending, but that is a limited slice of the budget pie that would not meet the demands of many conservatives to balance the budget.

The looming June 5 deadline set by the Treasury Department presents a potentially career-defining challenge for McCarthy, who must balance a series of narrowly competing interests in the House with the need to finally pass a bill. in the Democratic-led Senate and win the presidency. Joe Biden’s signature to avoid dire economic consequences.

«The first question is what can come out of there with 218 Republican votes,» said Sen. Kevin Cramer, RN.D., who served with McCarthy in the House. “And that’s Kevin’s challenge.

«We’ll see what happens to them. The burden of governing – the weight of that burden is starting to be felt by the people there,” Cramer said. “But at the end of the day, we’d rather have our fingerprint on success than failure. That is my hope. And I think Kevin should be given a lot of time and space to do that.»

Failing to act in time could mean a stock market crash and recession, a weaker dollar and higher interest rates, and a government forced to make exhausting decisions like paying off creditors or funding the Department of Defense and writing government checks. Social Security.

Hardline Republicans in the House of Representatives, including those who withheld their votes to appoint McCarthy for president until they won a series of concessions and promises, are demanding fiscal discipline in the abstract.

“I have said since I first ran that I would not vote for a debt ceiling increase other than spending cuts that would put us on the path to fiscal responsibility,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., who refused to detail what it would look like specifically.

Rep. Ralph Norman, RS.C., who won a seat on the powerful Rules Committee, said he wants to see «a downward trajectory» in long-term spending as part of any increase in the debt ceiling.

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., another of McCarthy’s 20 initial holdouts, said a debt-limit bill would need to have a 10-year balance-budget amendment to win her vote.

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Jan. 5.Jose Luis Magana / AP

Luna said she wants to do it without tax increases or cuts to Social Security or Medicare. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” she said.

Experts say that if those programs, as well as Pentagon spending, a sacred cow for many Republicans, are left untouched, it becomes nearly impossible to balance the budget in a decade.

“If you waived defense, veterans, Social Security and Medicare spending, you would have to cut everything else by 85%,” said Marc Goldwein, an expert with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a think tank that advocates reducing the red ink. “It is possible as a mathematical proposition. But the question is: is it possible as a political proposal? And the answer is no.»

McCarthy has offered no plan other than to insist on a deal with Biden to cut «waste spending.»

“What I have asked is that we sit down, find common ground and eliminate wasteful spending to protect hard-working taxpayers and protect America’s future,” he said.

The White House has promised that Biden will make no concessions on the debt limit and that paying the country’s bills is non-negotiable. That position is supported by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., who said Democrats have no intention of committing until McCarthy shows what specifically the House can pass.

«Until Chairman McCarthy has a plan, and a plan that can pass the House with his Republican support, going to the White House is like going without cards,» Schumer said. “Show your own caucus the plan and see if they have the votes to pass it.

«We have a plan. Passing the debt ceiling without taking hostages, without any risky politics,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, RN.C., a McCarthy ally and veteran of past fights over the debt limit, said the House would most likely have to act first, concurring with the Senate Minority Leader. , Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky. McHenry, now chairman of the Financial Services Committee, which oversees Wall Street, has urged Republicans to be reasonable in their demands.

At a news conference Wednesday, five of the most conservative Republican senators also dodged numerous questions about what spending should be cut to meet their demands for budget discipline.

“We need to attach tax controls or other spending cuts to it. Exactly what they are, we’re not willing to expound here today,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, told reporters. «We’re going to do that in consultation with the House.»

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said, «It is incumbent on the Republican majority and the Republicans in the Senate to use every leverage point we have to stop out-of-control spending.»

Some in the Republican Party have proposed measures to manage a potential debt limit default by prioritizing payments. Others say Congress could force down overall spending levels and give agencies discretion over what to cut. However, others say jurisdiction committees should make those decisions.

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., who represents a competitive district, said Republicans are «actively working right now» to figure out what can get 218 votes in a 222-seat majority.

“That’s part of the challenge we have right now, obviously, with a small majority. We have seen small majorities before, but the question is what does that product look like that we can reach a consensus on,” he said.

“I think everything should be on the table. But I think we also need to honor our commitment to the American people when it comes to Social Security and Medicare,” Garcia continued. “Now, that raises the question: Is that enough? Is there enough left to address the discretionary side?

Asked what the House will add to a debt limit increase, Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said, «We’re definitely going to have to have some negotiations.»

She said she doesn’t think a no-strings-attached raise can pass.

“I don’t see the support for it,” he said.