Perry, allies hamstring new speaker

York Dispatch editorial board

With friends like Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry, newly minted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy certainly doesn’t need any enemies.

Perry and his fellow trouble-makers in the House Freedom Caucus turned what should have been a career capstone for McCarthy into a week of embarrassment and disappointment.

Adopting their characteristic our-way-or-the-highway posture, the 20 or so rebelling Republicans withheld support for their California colleague on vote after vote, day after day. They put forth ridiculous alternatives including former President Donald Trump and took immature delight in teasing the speaker-in-waiting by casting votes for little-known Rep. Kevin … Hern. Of Oklahoma.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., left, talks with Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., after the first round of voting for House Speaker during opening day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, Jan 3, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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Even for someone as desperate to wield the gavel as McCarthy, the circumstances could not have been less celebratory. His eventual success, in the overnight hours of Friday, was marred by a last-minute vote reversal by spotlight-hogging Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz that nearly resulted in a physical altercation on the House floor.

Only on the 15th ballot — the most needed to elect a speaker since before the Civil War and the fifth-most in U.S. history — did McCarthy finally squeak past the finish line, and only then because half a dozen Republicans voted “present,” lowering threshold for victory. Perry, by that time, joined a dozen or so other opponents in reversing his vote in support of McCarthy,

And for all of that, the new speaker’s troubles may only be just beginning. The hardliners extracted numerous concessions from McCarthy for their eventual, lukewarm support, including allowing any lawmaker to call for his removal at any time. Talk about a short leash.

Other concessions, including giving ultraconservative members approval over a third of the powerful Rules Committee and throwing open debate on spending bills to allow any member to propose amendments, will considerably curtail the new speaker’s power.

Still, for all of the headwinds he faced in ascending to the House leadership, McCarthy strove to set a tone of Republican resolve in his first speech, outlining the usual list of GOP priorities including immigration and government spending.

“Our system is built on checks and balances,” he said. “It's time for us to be a check and provide some balance to the president's policies.”

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True enough, but Perry & Co. are more interested in targeting McCarthy for those checks and balances. Perry is already preparing for a fight over extending the federal debt limit.

“We don't want clean debt ceilings to just go through and just keep paying the bill without some counteracting effort to control spending when the Democrats control the White House and control the Senate,” said Perry, who characterized the intended changes in spending allocations as “historic.”

That’s what a majority of Republicans, along with Democrats, are worried about.

Changes in spending need to be debated when bills are being hammered out — and perhaps the new, freewheeling budget-debate format will help. But defaulting on payments already agreed upon would put at risk not only the U.S. but the global economy.

Still, even mainstream Republicans are less than optimistic following McCarthy’s bruising battle for speaker.

“You’re looking at a preview of coming attractions,” said Ohio Republican Rep. David Joyce.

That’s the concern across the board. McCarthy has had to undermine his own authority to an astounding degree to secure the speakership. His ability to negotiate with House Democrats and counterparts in the Senate and White House can’t help but be questioned when he had such difficulties hammering out an agreement within his own party.

True, the slim majority Republicans hold in the House doesn’t help McCarthy. But it’s a fair bet that Perry and the Freedom Caucus he presides over won’t be of much assistance either.