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Biden Is Losing the Debt Ceiling Showdown

AP Photo/Jess Rapfogel

The likeliest resolution to this standoff remains a last-minute deal struck between the White House and Speaker McCarthy, which will garner enough bipartisan votes to get through Congress.  Conservatives and progressives will oppose it, but rank-and-file members will hold their noses and push the agreement through, with leaders on each side pointing to various details and concessions while declaring victory.  The debt ceiling will be raised.  Some form of very modest spending restraint will be imposed.  And Washington will collectively head off toward the next regularly-scheduled fiscal cliff.  We've seen movies like this before, so the outcome doesn't feel like a mystery.


But Democrats' plan hasn't worked thus far.  Led by the president, they've refused to negotiate for months, assuming that the raucous House Republican conference wouldn't be able to coalesce behind any plan.  The expectation was that Democrats could point to GOP dysfunction while ramping up public pressure, aided by the media, for a 'clean' debt ceiling hike.  The Republicans are legislative arsonists and can't govern, so this is the only responsible path.  But then the lower chamber flipped the dynamic on its head by passing a reasonable bill to somewhat constrain federal spending while raising the debt limit for approximately one year.  That happened weeks ago.  Democrats still haven't quite adjusted to that reality, offering incoherent messaging that simply ignores new realities:

After months of declining to negotiate, President Biden finally relented and agreed to talks, then left the country.  Those discussions broke down in recent days, with 'multiple' issues being cited.  The two sides are stuck at an impasse, as discussions continue.  Democrats may cling to their non-viable game plan of endlessly blaming Republicans as the June cut-off looms, but the fact remains is that one party has taken action to prevent default with legislation, while the party in power steadfastly refuses to deal with the facts as they exist, including the salient one that a majority of American voters elected a GOP-run House of Representatives last fall.  The people asked for divided government, and divided government requires compromise.  Biden's approval ratings are already strikingly poor, and any combination of a default and/or a recession could be politically fatal.  He's the president.  If an unresolved debt ceiling battle results in an economic meltdown of some sort, the buck will ultimately stop with him.  Good luck with this, Joe:


To reiterate a key point -- Republicans are the only ones to have passed a debt limit extension bill, the crux of which is popular with voters.  According to recent polling from battleground districts, "77% favor reclaiming unspent COVID funds, 62% support enhanced welfare work requirements and 53% support reducing discretionary spending to pre-pandemic levels."  Democrats have resorted to outright lying about the bill, claiming that it requires cutting veterans' benefits, which is simply untrue.  Politico reports on the current state of play among Democrats, and one word that comes to mind is...disarray:

[Some Democrats believe] that if Democrats had tried to hike the debt limit before the House GOP swept into a majority, even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) might have gone along with it. But Biden’s party never moved on the issue. And six months later, Democrats are stuck doing exactly what they said they wouldn’t — negotiating on the debt ceiling with Republicans...As Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden labor to overcome huge ideological disputes over spending and work requirements in order to strike a budget deal that might unlock a debt-limit increase, Democrats are bemoaning what might have been. Many progressives are at a loss over how the party ended up here, having slowly reversed a stance that they wouldn’t haggle with the GOP over the debt limit, after deciding not to even attempt a party-line debt hike last year...The frustration is evident in the rising number of congressional Democrats who are urging Biden to use the legally questionable path of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment to try a debt hike, rather than concede to McCarthy. 

...Democrats’ “no negotiations” position on the debt ceiling vanished, replaced by a potential deal that could slash at least some federal spending, against their members’ wishes, and possibly give into further GOP demands...many progressives worried that the president’s talks with McCarthy will embolden the House GOP as it seeks big concessions. Democratic leaders have tried to steady the ship with linguistic jiu jitsu, asserting that the budget negotiation is separate from the debt ceiling — which means the party has not backslid on its no-negotiations position. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer this week called the negotiations on the budget and raising the debt ceiling “separate but simultaneous.” It was a bit different than how he sounded in February: vowing that “we’re going to win this fight, and it’s going to be a clean debt ceiling.”


The ruling party could have passed a giant debt ceiling increase when they controlled all the levers of power.  They chose not to even try.  Now they can't even quite agree if they're even negotiating over the debt limit at all, parsing it to death, and effectively twiddling their thumbs as the deadline approaches.  Some on the Left have decided to embrace a cockamamie scheme under which Biden could just unilaterally raise the debt limit without Congress, muttering something about the 14th Amendment.  This is ludicrous, of course, and unconstitutional.  It's an even wilder idea than minting a trillion-dollar coin, or whatever madness that occasionally-floated "plan" entails.  And this lunacy went from a fringe fascination to being endorsed by our supposedly 'norms-restoring' president in no time flat.  Charles Cooke unloads:

I wonder if McCarthy should call Biden's bluff here.  The president absolutely does not have the authority to do this.  It would get struck down, perhaps even 9-0 (that might be optimistic), if it made it to the Supreme Court.  It would be enormously risky for Biden to attempt to go down this path, on multiple levels.  But now that he says he believes he can do this on his own, why keep negotiating?  Try it, pal.  I suspect Biden ultimately won't take that chance.  So every minute Democrats keep murmuring about Biden going it alone, or internally debating whether the (on again, off again) negotiations even constitute negotiations, is a minute not being spent on anything productive.  Of course, the root problem in all of this is that Washington spends far too much money.  Since the last major debt ceiling battle in 2011, during which then-Vice President Joe Biden was the lead Democratic negotiator, the national debt has doubled.  It's not a revenue-side issue.  It's the spending:


Tax receipts are far above historical norms, as a percentage of GDP, but outlays have exploded to abnormal highs.  As the RNC points out, "according to the CBO, government outlays totaled 25.1 percent of GDP in 2022 compared to the pre-COVID norm of 20.1 percent."  That's the problem.  House Republicans' bill barely makes a dent in the scheme of things, but at least it's a small dent.  Democrats' stance is full speed ahead on higher spending, forever, regardless of the math.  The American people are not in favor of that approach, but they are in favor of central components of the GOP-passed alternative.  Meanwhile, the president keeps lying about having cut the national debt, which is so dishonest that even liberal 'fact-checkers' have felt compelled to repeatedly correct the record.  

Biden has been a terrible president in nearly every conceivable way.  His weak standing in the eyes of the public reflects that performance.  His team must realize that they simply cannot allow a default to happen on their watch, so McCarthy has a fairly strong hand to play here, especially since the House-passed plan remains the only bill in town.  I'll leave you with a reminder that the national debt isn't some esoteric or theoretical concern:


UPDATE - This is what Republicans are up against.  This framing isn't merely shaded or biased toward the Democrats.  It's the opposite of true:

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