By Alexander Bolton – 10/08/15 06:32 PM EDT
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) surprise decision to drop out of the race for Speaker is throwing talks on funding the government and raising the debt ceiling into chaos, with no clarity on who will be doing the negotiating.
Congress has less than a month to raise the nation’s debt limit and only two months to find a deal to avoid a government shutdown. Meanwhile, many in the GOP are unsure who is representing the House majority at the table.
Some conservatives have already called on outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to pull out of the talks, arguing he is a lame duck.
“If you’re the other parties to the budget talks, you’ve got to wonder if the people you’re dealing with have the authority to pull the trigger,” said Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of more than 150 Republicans in the House.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told CNN the twist “sends a question to the American people about our ability to govern.”
Even if House Republicans elect a successor to Boehner in the next month, there is little optimism he or she would be in any mood to agree to a deal to raise spending caps after conservative opposition drove McCarthy from the race.
“It lowers the prospects for competent, adult legislation,” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) Thursday after meeting with a group of about 50 centrists in the House known as the Tuesday Group.
“It takes bipartisan cooperation to make the important decisions for this country and we’re getting the steady message from some House Republicans that they’re not interested in it,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) added.
If Boehner’s successor strikes a deal that angers members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, he could face a motion to force him to relinquish the gavel — the same threat that spurred Boehner to announce his resignation last month.
The longer it takes to get a deal on the top-line budget numbers, the less likely it is that negotiators will be able to put together a year-end spending package. The fallback plan is to pass a yearlong spending measure that freezes funding levels.
“Time is of the essence on those issues. This is all we needed,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said.
A Senate Democratic aide said staffers from the administration and congressional leadership offices have met to begin discussing the groundwork of a deal but the principals have yet to meet face to face.
House Republicans say the Speaker’s race could go in a number of different directions, as new candidates emerged late Thursday.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) told Fox News host Neil Cavuto he would run. Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), two conservative leaders, are also considered possible contenders.
Senators of both parties watched the tumultuous developments in the House Thursday with a mix of horror and morbid fascination.
“It’s not a good day to be in the House,” said one Republican senator who used to serve in the lower chamber.
Some said Boehner should reconsider his decision to step down at the end of the month in hopes that he would prolong his departure long enough to help avoid a shutdown or default.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she fears it will now be “very hard” to get a year-end budget deal.
“My hope is that Boehner will reconsider and just wait and get done what we have to get done,” she said.
Republican Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.) told reporters that Boehner is expected to hang onto his job until his successor is elected. One Republican senator said this could actually help the year-end talks if he stays well into December while House colleagues squabble over the race.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) demanded Republican leaders bring a clean debt-ceiling increase to the floor immediately to head off an impasse later this month that could cause a federal default.
“The utter chaos of the Republican Party must not threaten the full faith and credit of the United States and the American people,” he said in a statement.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide said Thursday the opportunity to negotiate a broad budget deal that would raise spending caps and boost the debt ceiling has collapsed.
“The only option is to bring a clean debt ceiling bill to the floor because [House Republicans] are not going to have their act together before the deadline hits,” the aide added.
Senate Republicans acknowledged Thursday that the debt ceiling will likely move separately from a year-end spending package and largely free of policy concessions from President Obama.
“I always though they would have to bring a clean debt ceiling bill to the floor,” a senior Republican senator said of his party’s leadership.
“Eventually we’re going to have to do a debt ceiling to make sure there’s no default,” said Kirk. He said it would have to be “fairly clean to make sure we focus members of Congress on the financial integrity of the country.”
Peter Schroeder contributed.