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Bob Good, emboldened after speaker fight, gears up for debt limit battle

“We’ve got to get comfortable being uncomfortable, because it’s going to get uncomfortable again,” Rep. Bob Good told a town-hall crowd in his Virginia district. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

ZION CROSSROADS, Va. — Fresh off the standoff over House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) climbed atop a chair at a town hall in rural Louisa County to tell his constituents all about it — and to prepare them for what’s next.

The concessions that Good and about 20 other conservatives won from McCarthy, after opposing him for speaker through 14 votes, were “not a cause for celebration,” Good told the crowd — but an opportunity.

“I want you to know there are just as high-stakes, if not higher, more significant battles ahead. And they’re already starting,” Good told several dozen constituents at a Wednesday town hall, garnering applause.

Here, Good would find little pushback to moves that ground the House to a halt in its first week — an episode that thrust Good from the political sidelines into the national spotlight. The congressman from Lynchburg spent two years in the minority with little influence on the congressional agenda, leading pushes for mostly symbolic conservative bills with no chance of passage. Now, though, the politics around him have changed: With a narrow GOP majority, Republicans can hardly afford to lose more than a handful of votes, enabling Good and his allies in the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus to rack up leverage with more visible impact, as the speaker fight showed. As the House eyes its next challenge, a newly emboldened Good is suiting up for battle — ready to leverage debt ceiling talks to force government spending cuts.

In as many words, Good told the crowd: Buckle up.

“We’ve got to get comfortable being uncomfortable, because it’s going to get uncomfortable again,” Good said. “We’re going to get accused of threatening the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. It’s already started.”

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He said constituents might hear alarm bells about government shutdowns, about defaulting on the nation’s debts if the debt ceiling is not suspended or raised — the kind of event that economists warn could trigger global concern and economic catastrophe. The United States hit its $31.4 trillion debt cap on Thursday, triggering what the Treasury Department described as “extraordinary measures” to prevent breaching the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen urged Congress to raise or suspend the ceiling before those temporary measures expire in June or sooner — how long they would last is “subject to considerable uncertainty,” she said.

But, Good said Wednesday, “Don’t be alarmed.”

“All we got to do is cut the discretionary spending to stay within our provisions,” he said, arguing the real threat to the full faith and credit of the U.S. government is the existing national debt. He said there was no circumstance under which he would vote to raise the debt ceiling without “commensurate cuts in spending,” a position shared by enough conservatives to spark a standoff over spending in the weeks and months ahead.

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A spokesman for Good’s campaign — which hosted the town hall — said he would not be doing an interview after the event; his office did not respond to a request.

Good, a former longtime banker with Citibank and athletic fundraiser at his alma mater, Liberty University, was elected to Virginia’s 5th Congressional District in 2020 and is now in his second term. He came out swinging to kick off the year.

Good was one of the first Republicans to publicly denounce McCarthy’s candidacy, and one of the last to remain firm in that position all the way through 15 votes — the kind of defiance of GOP leadership that has made Good somewhat of a pariah within his own party but popular within the reddest anti-establishment factions in his district. He called McCarthy a member of the “swamp cartel” in floor speeches vigorously opposing him for speaker, saying he was not a true conservative and criticizing his financial support for moderate Republicans in primaries. He ultimately voted “present” on the 15th ballot in the speaker vote, one of just six to do so.

“I’ve got 800,000 bosses in the 5th District. I don’t have bosses in D.C. I do not work for them. I didn’t go there to make friends with them,” Good said, to claps of approval.

To him, serving those bosses has often meant broad opposition to government spending. David Richards, chair of the political science department at the University of Lynchburg, described Good’s style as largely to just “say no,” seeking to limit government spending however possible. He noted that Good often voted in the minority on broadly bipartisan bills, such as to expand disaster assistance for rural communities, even though his district is mostly rural.

But Richards said Good could afford to “stick to his principles, because at the end of the day, he doesn’t have to compromise.”

“I think he has found his place as the sort of immovable object that things are coming up against,” Richards said. “We saw that in the speaker race: He could vote no to the bitter end because he was one vote. And as long as the GOP could get that majority, his one vote didn’t matter. Now add his one vote to a bunch of other people — yes, it begins to matter.”

That’s the situation Congress and the White House are contending with now, as many House Republicans — well beyond Good and the 20 hard-liners who held up McCarthy’s speaker election — have signaled they are willing to use the debt ceiling as leverage to force spending cuts.

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Some Virginia Republicans have similar, though more tempered, positions on the looming crisis. Rep. H. Morgan Griffith told the local TV station WVVA that “in reality we’re going to have to raise the debt ceiling” — but noted that most Republicans “have agreed that we don’t want to raise the debt ceiling without some steps being made to rein in federal government spending.” Rep. Ben Cline, who sits on the House Budget Committee, has said he hopes Democrats come to the table to negotiate on spending cuts in good faith.

Good has not said specifically what all should be cut, though said in the town hall there is no room for spending on “diversity, equity and inclusion stuff, CRT stuff, transgender stuff” in any agency or environmental measures in military spending, which he said should be robust but “accountable.”

Cutting military spending is largely off-limits for Republican Reps. Rob Wittman and Jen A. Kiggans, who each represent districts with large populations of veterans and with economies tied to defense. Each has expressed openness to finding cuts to spending in general.

“We must rein in the reckless spending we see coming out of Washington and work to reduce our debt and deficit,” Wittman said in a statement Monday. “We have a responsibility to protect taxpayer dollars without compromising our military strength and readiness. This Congress, I believe we will achieve both.”

Fights over cutting spending and raising the debt ceiling — to pay bills on money already appropriated — are perennial on Capitol Hill, although Democrats have been sounding the alarm more forcefully as Republicans dig in. “We screw up on this debt ceiling, your stock market — you’re going to see carnage,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) warned at an event in Warrenton on Friday. Some Republicans have suggested cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security could be on the table — which Biden has said he’d oppose.

Biden has signaled he would meet with McCarthy soon, though the White House’s opening salvo was that it would not negotiate over the debt ceiling.

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Good said he believed the concessions conservatives extracted from McCarthy — including allowing any member to call for a vote to remove him as speaker at any time — only “empowered” McCarthy as he heads into those negotiations.

“I don’t say we have shackled or handcuffed or constrained our speaker. We have empowered him,” Good said. “When he goes to Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, and when he goes to the White House and he negotiates, he can tell them, ‘Those guys mean it. They showed me 14 times. When they say no, they mean no.’”

Constituents at Good’s town hall said they were pleased with the stand he was taking. A few were at first a bit taken aback by Good’s intransigent position on McCarthy, not seeing what the fuss was all about. Bonnie Harris of Louisa said she was “shocked” he opposed McCarthy, while Barbara Seay of Fluvanna County said at first she thought the gridlock was “just another s--- show.” But both women said they found Good’s explanations satisfactory.

“He was very transparent,” Harris said. “That’s what we need.”

“I think he’s a man who’s going to stand up for what he believes,” Seay said. “And it’s hard. I was once in politics myself — not me, but my husband — and it’s very difficult, because you have to put up with so many different beliefs.”

Just a single voice of dissent bubbled up from the town-hall crowd. Democrat Jo Griffith said she came out of curiosity, “to give him a bit of a chance.” She shouted out a subtle jab targeting Good’s vote against a bill to expand health-care access for veterans exposed to toxins — like many Republicans, Good preferred an alternative — but few seemed to notice.

“I thought there’d be more Democrats out here to ask him some pointed questions,” she said, “but, apparently not.”

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