Representative Garret Graves Sees Hope in Debt Limit Talks

Representative Garret Graves Sees Hope in Debt Limit Talks  at george magazine

The Louisiana congressman, who acts as a consigliere to Speaker Kevin McCarthy, says four areas of potential compromise have emerged.

Representative Garret Graves, Republican of Louisiana, wasn’t elected to any House leadership position and doesn’t serve as a powerful committee chairman. But as a consigliere to Speaker Kevin McCarthy — who has described Mr. Graves as the G.O.P. “assistant coach” — he has become a central player on every big legislative push in the House.

Most recently, that has meant taking the lead role in uniting the fractious G.O.P. conference behind a bill to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for cutting spending and unraveling major elements of President Biden’s domestic agenda.

A former House staffer first elected to Congress in 2015, Mr. Graves, 51, now has the unenviable job of bringing Republican members together behind whatever deal Mr. McCarthy can strike with Mr. Biden to avoid a catastrophic debt default. He is the point person for the so-called five families within the House G.O.P., who represent the full range of ideological viewpoints within the party.

In an interview, Mr. Graves projected some optimism about talks between Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Biden. But he blamed the president and Democrats for the stalemate, sidestepping the fact that it is Republicans who have prompted the current impasse by refusing to agree to raise the debt limit without deep spending cuts. He accused the White House of “trying to fight a public relations” battle on the debt limit, even though Republicans for months have also been waging one of their own.

Mr. Biden says he won’t bargain with Republicans over raising the debt limit, and his aides reject their assertion that the current path of the debt poses a significant threat to economic growth.

Still, with a deadline for a possible default looming as soon as June 1, Mr. Graves said four broad areas of negotiation have emerged for a potential budget deal: capping federal spending, reclaiming unspent funds designated for the Covid emergency, imposing stiffer work requirements for federal benefits and expediting permitting for energy projects.

Mr. Graves spoke to The New York Times after a morning spent diner-hopping in his district, a regular tradition that he says puts him in touch with the concerns of his constituents and that he values more than any poll.

The interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

House Republicans once said they wanted to balance the budget in 10 years and overhaul the annual budget process. Now, you’re outlining some potential cuts, but they’re far from a total rethinking of the way we fund the government. Is this a capitulation?

From a Negotiation 101 perspective, you start with areas where you have some common foundation agreement or understanding. It helps to build trust. I never, ever said that would be the four things we would agree on. That’s the start.

There’s no capitulation. The president has not proposed a single thing that could pass the House or the Senate. Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, has not put anything on the floor, period. The only thing that is really relevant right now is our bill.

For many fiscally conservative Republicans, some of whom reflexively resist raising the debt limit, passing your bill was likely as far as they are willing to go. What are you doing to manage expectations for a potential deal with the White House that is much more modest than what they are expecting, or ultimately willing to vote for?

It’s hard to say, because I can’t tell you what the deal looks like. The four things we would agree on — that’s certainly not the exhaustive list of things that we’re expecting.

Number two, I don’t want to sit here and negotiate with you. I can’t speak for the president, but go back and read some of his comments from the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations, when he agreed to negotiate with Republicans. If he can just reassume that mind-set, than we can get this done. Pretty quickly. The things we’ve proposed just starting out, why would you not agree to that stuff?

How do you think this ends?


I am confident that if there is good will on the part of the White House, this could be done in 48 hours. I do think it’s going to take some change in attitude from the White House from trying to fight a public relations battle. We can get this done, and we can do it without causing carnage.

Conversely, if they’re going to try — and I think they’ve softened a bit — but if they try and continue this public relations campaign and “we’re not going to negotiate,” then this doesn’t end well.

How concerned are House Republicans about actually defaulting? Is it a real fear, or is it seen as a loaded political talking point?

I haven’t heard anyone say they’re scared, and I haven’t heard anyone say, “Hey, I want to default.”

… Except for former President Donald J. Trump, who said at a CNN town hall earlier this week that Republicans should let the country default if they can’t get acceptable spending cuts.

Well, I didn’t watch that at all. I read a headline; I really don’t know exactly what he said or the context in which he said it. In terms of our side, behind closed doors, in front of microphones, I haven’t heard anyone say, “Hey, I want to default.” I think there’s good intentions on our side.

But there’s no question that it was a strategic decision by the White House and by Democrats to try to manufacture the crisis by getting as close to the backstop as possible. That’s why there was the 97 days of no communication, that’s why they said they would not negotiate. Those were tactics to create the crisis, and they believed that would give them more leverage in negotiations.

The problem they’ve caused themselves is that if there’s a default, they 100 percent own it.

(A White House spokesman, Andrew Bates, responded, “House Republicans are admitting that they are single-handedly holding millions of jobs, retirement accounts, and businesses hostage unless they are paid a growing list of extreme ransom demands.” He added, “President Biden isn’t demanding anything in exchange for avoiding default.”)

What do you want out of these talks with the White House?

Something to raise the debt ceiling. But something else that is an absolute priority is something that will really bend the curve. The trajectory that we’re on right now is absolutely unsustainable. It is punitive to children and grandchildren.

How did you end up in this role of the appointed convener of the so-called five families within the Republican conference?

I thought the speaker’s race was embarrassing. Watching the House not be able to actually pick up the reins and start working on priority issues. Nobody asked me to do anything, but I started having conversations with different people. Fast forward, we get through all that and McCarthy said, “Hey, what do you want?”

I said, “I want you to be a good speaker.” He came back and said, “The groups of people you convened, that shouldn’t just dissolve. That should continue and contribute to the functionality of the House.” That’s how it evolved.

I don’t want to mislead you and tell you everything’s perfect and everything’s going great. But when you look at points on the board, it just proves that this model works.

Has it changed your view of some of the more extreme members you serve with?

I didn’t have an incredibly high opinion of Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, going into it. He’s one of my best friends now.

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