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McCarthy's Biggest Test As Speaker Heats Up

Jacquelyn Martin, Pool

It's been months since Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that the United States would soon reach its debt ceiling and began "extraordinary measures" to delay — only temporarily — the potential first default in U.S. history.


Now, this week, everything looks to be coming to a head as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) moves ahead with Republicans' plan to raise the debt ceiling while also rolling spending back to FY2022 levels while Biden refuses to negotiate with the House GOP and his White House insists McCarthy's plan will lead to, "literally," melting bones and children getting asthma. 

So, who will blink first? 

McCarthy is moving full steam ahead with his leadership team in tow, pledging over the weekend that "we will hold the vote this week and we will pass it and send it to the Senate," where Democrats have a narrow majority and some members of Biden's own party, such as Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), are growing frustrated with Biden's inaction and refusal to come to the negotiating table on a deal. 

As things stand, the earliest a vote in the House could take place looks to be Wednesday, but McCarthy's team is reportedly still whipping votes to ensure they have the support necessary to pass the debt ceiling and spending reduction legislation. According to Politico, "[p]eople close to the whip tally tell Playbook they’re not there, but they’re in a good position."


The House Republican Conference, as seen in the first days of the 118th Congress during the Speaker election, is a divergent bunch on some issues, including spending and the debt ceiling. But, so far at least, House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY) along with Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN) and Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) have held Republicans together as a united front against the Biden administration. If that all holds and Republicans pass their plan, Biden and his party in the upper chamber will then, in theory, be forced to come to the table.

After more than 80 days since the last meeting Biden agreed to with McCarthy, the House Speaker has repeatedly told the president that he's ready to talk and see where common ground can be found to avert a default while keeping the United States from ending up right back at the debt limit due to Democrats' tax-and-spending binge. 

Still, Biden — whose hyperbolic press secretary has been waxing poetic about Republicans giving kids asthma with their bill — has refused to negotiate until legislation to raise the debt ceiling is on the floor, which should happen this week. But Biden has also insisted that he won't consider any bill that's not a clean increase on the debt limit, which Republicans are not putting forward. 


It appears it will be the White House that needs to make concessions if or when the House passes McCarthy's plan, and all eyes and growing ire from congressional Democrats — covered earlier by Townhall here — will turn to Biden, someone who's already got a busy week ahead as it seems he'll release a video announcing his 2024 reelection bid as soon as Tuesday. 

Both sides of the issue have said defaulting on the nation's debts is unacceptable, but House Republicans have outflanked Biden and his White House so far. Democrats have even credited Speaker McCarthy with putting forward something to consider, even if they disagree with its provisions, compared to Biden's refusal to negotiate or even talk with lawmakers about what he would be willing to sign as part of a debt limit increase. 

If Republicans hold together this week and pass the McCarthy debt plan, Biden will almost certainly have to be the one to blink. But, as we've seen before, House Republicans can be a fickle bunch and resistant to go along with leadership — just look at how long it took to elect a House Speaker. A fractured House GOP on the vote will mean a big loss for McCarthy.

This time around, McCarthy can only afford to lose five GOP votes if he still wants to pass his debt plan, and the prospect of relying on House Democrats to cobble together enough members to pass a plan is one that would require likely significant concessions to Biden's party — another untenable reality for many House Republicans. 


As it stands, it seems the best path forward is for Republicans to hold together to pass what may be an imperfect bill to some, but one that will put Biden and Democrats on their collective heels and increase pressure for Biden to acquiesce to at least some of what Republicans want to accomplish toward reining in spending and the scope of government. 

Biden would be forced, then, to eat his White House's words and give something to Republicans on spending, the size of federal bureaucracy, and hopefully roll back some of his administration's damaging policies. 

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