Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during a news conference in Statuary Hall at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. Credit: Jose Luis Magana / AP

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The path to Kevin McCarthy’s speakership of the House of Representatives wasn’t the only modern leadership uproar among Republicans. Newt Gingrich pushed out the civil, moderate Bob Michels in 1993 and John Boehner and Paul Ryan left their positions in 2015 and 2018 after conflicts with obstreperous elements of their party.

But, while other GOP speakers had internal problems, the deals McCarthy cut to get the votes he needed will likely have profound, poisonous consequences for our republic.

Much of the perilous roadmap is in the new House rules. This time they’re a doozy, even without the rumored secret three-page addendum McCarthy hammered out with his harshest holdouts.  

The rules package undermines the House Ethics Committee, making it harder to hold lawmakers accountable.

And it includes some bills. One, passed last week, enacted a misleading message about funding for the Internal Revenue Service that was part of the Inflation Reduction Act, which every Democrat backed and every Republican, including Sen. Susan Collins opposed. Congressional Republicans are also trying to repeal the IRA’s provisions that lower drug prices for seniors.

The IRS provisions were designed to get rich tax cheats and corporations to pay what they owed after escaping audits, to help everyday people get customer service and to update the agency’s technology. As the New York Times reported, “That investment is expected to generate $180 billion in revenue over 10 years. Yet despite denouncing the federal budget deficit and calling for more fiscal responsibility, Republicans have dismissed any revenue gain from beefing up the tax collector.” Mind you, the Congressional Budget Office said if House Republicans got what they wanted, the deficit would rise by $114 billion over 10 years.

But the worst planned actions would harm key programs we rely on, along with the economy and the rule of law.

First, the rules incorporate cuts to mandatory spending — Social Security and Medicare. With baby boomers retiring and needing the federal retirement and health benefits they’ve been paying for, spending has to go up. But the House GOP “requires mandatory spending increases to be offset only with equal or greater decreases in mandatory spending.” Look for the GOP to use the same weasel words they’ve employed before when pursuing these cuts — modernize, reform, improve.

Meanwhile, under the same rules, “Republicans could pass extensions of the 2017 Trump tax cuts, some of which have set to expire in 2025 (while others already have),” Politico reported.

Second, the new rules make it harder to raise the debt ceiling, which means that the U.S. could unconstitutionally default on money we owe — with horrendous consequences for the economy. Not only would a default increase interest rates, thus increasing the debt, it reeks of hypocrisy since Republicans didn’t blink at raising the ceiling three times under former President Donald Trump. Plus, under a House GOP plan reported by the Washington Post, they’d prioritize certain spending if there was a default, including foreign and domestic bondholders, but not fund Medicaid, food safety, school lunches, national parks and more.

There are untraditional ways to avoid this catastrophe — a circuitous House process called a discharge petition or having the Treasury Department mint a platinum coin — but the better route is for the House to act responsibly — and not hold the full faith and credit of the government hostage to get massive cuts in very popular programs on which Americans rely.

A third poisonous seed involves going after the Justice Department to try to thwart investigations of Trump. The House rules put in a provision allowing them to defund Jack Smith, Trump’s special counsel. Also Republican Rep. Jim Jordan requested documents from the Department of Justice on its ongoing criminal probe. These steps aren’t like past oversight. In fact, a very long-standing bipartisan policy —  described in the 2000 Linder letter —  ensures prosecutors act without overt political interference from Congress.

How can these horrible things be avoided? The Senate and President Joe Biden must stand firm – and should cultivate moderate House Republicans, who will need to be courageous to buck McCarthy and the militant members of his caucus.

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Amy Fried, Opinion columnist

Amy Fried has written about the media and politics, women in politics, Maine and American political culture, and political activism, and works to create change through the Rising Tide Center. A political...