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Buckle Up: The Debt Ceiling Showdown Is Going to Be Brutal

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Last week, Joe Biden's Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen gave a last-minute Friday the 13th notice that the United States would hit its debt limit on Thursday the 19th, a ceiling currently set at a staggering $31.381 trillion. 

Well, it's now Thursday. And Secretary Yellen has undertaken what she called "extraordinary measures" in order to prevent a default on the United States' debts that would further harm the economy that the Biden administration has tanked substantially. 

What comes next, however, is going to be a showdown for the ages between House Republicans and the White House that will test new Speaker Kevin McCarthy's ability to deliver on his promises to the American people. 

As House Republicans took power in the lower chamber, the new majority listed tying any debt ceiling increases to spending cuts as one of its priorities. While it's a good idea to pump the brakes on Biden and the last Congress' tax-and-spend spree whenever possible, trying to force spending cuts as part of a must-pass debt limit increase is setting up a significant fight. 

If House Republicans stick to their guns and the pledges they made to Americans that saw them retake a majority, their starting position is clear: spending cuts must be included in any bill that would raise the debt ceiling. 

The White House, however, came out guns blazing on the issue last week, saying such a pairing would be a non-starter. Karine Jean-Pierre called raising the debt ceiling without conditions — essentially a blank check allowing even more spending and borrowing to take place — one of the "basic duties of Congress." 

Except it's not. Congress, the House specifically, is there to represent the American people and use its power of the purse. It is not the House's job — especially under Republican control — to continue enabling the tax, spend, borrow cycle Biden launched when he took office with the help of Democrat majorities in both chambers. 

But the White House, per Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, is "not going to negotiate on this" and accused Republicans of turning a vote to raise the debt ceiling into a "political football." So the White House's position is that Congress, including the GOP-controlled House, must pass a debt limit increase "without conditions." 

The two parties then, the White House and the House of Representatives, are starting diametrically opposed regarding how raising the debt ceiling should play out. 

Adding to the pressure is the ticking of the clock on how long Treasury Secretary Yellen can use her "extraordinary measures" to avoid a default on the nation's debt(s) that would impact the full faith and credit of the United States. 

In her 11th-hour January 13 notice to lawmakers that the debt limit would be reached on January 19, Yellen explained that her scrambling of the government's finances to avoid defaulting would likely last until "early June" before being "exhausted."

According to the current House calendar released by Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), there are only about 50 D.C. work days scheduled between now and the first full week of June, after which Yellen's measures could fail to prevent a default. With a closing window to avert such a default, the White House and Yellen have both called for the Republican-controlled House to quickly pass a bill raising the debt limit — without any conditions. 

But the premise of the White House and congressional Democrats' argument is false on its face: because Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer spent like drunken sailors for the last two years — and for years before that — Republicans must now acquiesce to their demands as the chickens of Democrats' fiscal irresponsibility come home to roost. 

If Republicans don't agree to govern like Democrats, Yellen threatened that they "would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. economy, the livelihoods of all Americans, and global financial stability." Why didn't Yellen warn then-Speaker Pelosi that her runaway spending bills would lead the U.S. to hit the debt ceiling? Strange how these warnings of financial ruin are only issued when one party is in charge.

Republicans should require changes to the blank-check spending Democrats pursued that contributed to the current debt limit showdown. If Biden and Democrats are allowed to continue spending and raising debt ceiling thresholds without any changes, we'll be back in this spot before we know it. 

But the White House says it's "not going to be negotiating over the debt ceiling," and Republicans have said they'll require spending cuts to raise the debt ceiling. For now, it comes down to which side blinks first and who faces taking the blame for a default if no agreement is reached and a bill raising the debt ceiling doesn't get signed into law.

There's added pressure weighing on the two sides in the form of other adverse actions that may hit even before a potential default. During a previous debt ceiling fight in 2011, the United States' credit rating was downgraded for the first time in its history on then-VP Biden's watch amid threats that a default would happen due to there being no apparent deal between a Republican-controlled Congress led by Speaker John Boehner and President Obama's White House. 

It's obvious that the mainstream media will take its cues from Democrats in the days ahead as Republicans seek to tack spending cuts onto a debt limit increase and the White House insists there must be no negotiations or conditions. The media will blame Speaker McCarthy and House Republicans if things don't get resolved in time to avert a default, with plenty of pearl-clutching along the way about how the GOP is supposedly playing games with the full faith and credit of the United States. 

But is the White House willing to let the full faith and credit of the United States take a hit just to land hits on House Republicans? Well, Biden let rail worker negotiations fall apart, and a resulting economic disaster was only averted because Congress acted to enforce a contract after Biden botched the deal, if that's any indication. 

Perhaps the more important question, then, is whether Republicans are going to stick to their commitments to rein in spending even when it's tough, or will they fold like a cheap suit under pressure from Democrats and Biden's liberal media allies?

The only sure thing is that the next few weeks will be brutal as a debt limit increase is debated.

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