Centrists threaten to grind House to a halt over tax bill complaints

It’s no longer just conservatives threatening to block floor action when they don’t get their way.

A group of four New York lawmakers threw a tranche of unrelated bills into limbo Tuesday afternoon, trying to squeeze GOP leadership to make changes to a tax proposal that Speaker Mike Johnson had hoped to pass through the chamber quickly. They were considering opposing a so-called rule vote, which would have ground floor action to a halt. It’s a tactic conservatives have embraced in recent months, when they feel leadership isn’t properly prioritizing their goals.

And while Johnson was ultimately able to stave off another episode of the near-constant chaos that consumes his thin majority, the centrist coalition is threatening to tank other bills as the talks with Johnson drag on.

“The point that has been made multiple times this Congress is that there are strength in numbers. But for us that delivered the majority, this is the issue that matters,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) said, asked if the group would use a similar hardball tactic in the future.

The group of New York Republicans and members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus — who have their own issues with the tax bill — are now expected to meet with Johnson and members of the Ways & Means Committee, which negotiated the bipartisan tax bill, later Tuesday as they try to figure out a path forward.

New York Republicans want some sort of fix to State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction to go along with the tax bill, a particular burden to their constituents where property taxes are higher. One involved Republican said Johnson and others are trying to temper the tensions amid an ongoing clash between the New Yorkers and other members of leadership.

Meanwhile, members of the Freedom Caucus are privately pushing leadership to make concessions over an expansion of the child tax credit.

“We’re having conversations about some of their concerns, some of our concerns and seeing if we can get a little kumbaya,” said Freedom Caucus member Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas).

House Republican leaders had been expected to call a vote on the bill this week, likely under suspension — a process that requires a two-thirds vote threshold but allows them to bypass GOP opponents by leaning on Democrats to help pass the bill.

That is leaving opponents of the tax bill looking for other points of leverage. Republicans threatening to tank their own party’s unrelated legislation has become a much more common practice this Congress, given frequent rebellions and an incredibly thin majority.

Conservative rabble rousers used the tactic under both Johnson and his predecessor Kevin McCarthy to express their displeasure over a debt deal last year and, more recently, short-term spending patches that have passed with Democratic support.

Some members left the vote shaking their heads, lamenting they can’t even do the basic practice of passing a rule these days. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) said they are “calling this the SALT rebellion.”

“It’s like the Whiskey Rebellion. Let’s see if the federal troops will crush it,” Zinke added, referring to tax protests on distilled spirits that turned violent when George Washington was president.

Katherine Tully McManus, Benjamin Guggenheim, Daniella Diaz and Nicholas Wu contributed reporting.