House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will put his shaky control of the thin Republican majority on the line this week with a bid to pass a bill slashing spending that is designed to jam President Joe Biden.
The standoff over the debt crisis is deepening between the Republican speaker and the Democratic president, which could be fateful for the country and their political careers. And the ability of each side to unify their parties and shape public opinion to avoid – or dispense – the blame will be crucial.
The clash is over the need to raise the government’s borrowing authority within months, without which the United States will default on its debts in a way that could send the domestic and global economies spiraling and could inflict deep pain and job losses on Americans. Republicans seek to use the situation as leverage to gut Biden’s domestic program.
The president, as he moves toward making his reelection campaign official as early as this week, says the GOP must not hold the nation hostage to what he says is an extreme agenda. The debt ceiling showdown is crucial to Biden as he seeks to protect the legislative achievements of his term so far and to portray an image of strength and purpose. He’s been building toward a reelection pitch partly by portraying House Republicans as the epitome of the chaos and disruption of ex-President Donald Trump, who is leading polls of the GOP primary.
McCarthy is seeking to unite his party around him to pass a bill that would raise the debt ceiling for a year in exchange for deep spending cuts. The measure would limit growth in government spending to 1% a year, block student loan forgiveness, rescind new funding for the Internal Revenue Service, introduce tougher work requirements for Medicaid, and repeal green energy tax credits to strangle Biden’s attempts to create a low-carbon economy to fight climate change.
The measure has no chance of defusing the situation or of winning the battle for the GOP since it won’t pass in the Democratic-led Senate. The strategy is intended to give the public the impression that Biden is being obstructionist and should be held responsible for any debt default.
The White House has stated that it will not negotiate a debt ceiling increase, which is the responsibility of Congress, and will only accept a clean proposal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. The speaker, on the other hand, was adamant on Sunday that Biden would have to step down as the country approaches a crisis that could peak this summer.
“We will hold a vote this week, pass it, and send it to the Senate,” McCarthy said on Fox, saying Republicans were the only party in Washington with a responsible plan to increase the debt ceiling and slamming Biden’s failure to compromise.
“Instead of putting us in default, he needs to show leadership and come to the negotiating table.” What he’s doing is dangerous. “He’s endangering the markets,” the California Republican claimed.
However, the speaker gave himself little political leeway.
There are still significant doubts about McCarthy’s ability to rally his troops behind his campaign, even presiding over a slender majority riddled with ideological schisms. And if he can’t even get this rudimentary communications bill passed, his authority will be shattered.
Some Republicans are calling for expenditure cuts that are politically difficult for Biden to accept. Others may refuse to vote on raising the debt ceiling regardless of what occurs. As they consider reelection attempts, more moderate Republicans are concerned about the radical sections of their party. Meanwhile, McCarthy would almost certainly lose his job if he was forced to employ Democratic votes to raise the debt ceiling, which is currently over $31 trillion. This may result in a direct conflict between McCarthy’s personal ambition and national interest.
There are risks for Biden as well. A prolonged crisis induced by the refusal to raise the debt ceiling, combined with the possibility of falling stock markets, would make him extremely vulnerable in his reelection bid.
The GOP is attempting to increase pressure on Biden
The speaker’s stance misses the fact that while Trump was president, most Republicans had no difficulty extending the debt ceiling with no strings attached. It also ignores the fact that the debt ceiling must be lifted to pay for obligations already authorized by Congress, including by Republican presidents.
However, if he can pass a law, he could theoretically create political pressure and anxiety among some Democrats who fear the ramifications of Biden being perceived as the obstinate figure in the standoff – even if the White House believes he has the moral high ground at this moment. The first symptoms of trepidation among some Democrats about a battle that appears to be heading for a deadly cliff edge appeared late last week.
Much will rely on how the president frames the story surrounding the impasse. The reality is that the Democrats’ loss of the House last year forces the White House to negotiate with Republicans on spending, which means Biden no longer has the freedom to effectively dictate budget parameters.
At the same time, he wants to defend what he has already accomplished, such as green energy legislation, which was crucial in establishing the United States’ global position in combating global warming. And if Republicans can leverage the debt ceiling to win massive concessions, Biden will have helped to set a disastrous precedent. The GOP would almost certainly use the same weapon to derail his domestic program in the run-up to the election next year. Furthermore, the possibility of unending wrangling over raising borrowing limits would seriously harm the economy’s status as a financial haven as well as the US credit rating.
A difficult political conundrum
The issue is how the White House communicates its position to the public. Democrats are painting McCarthy and the Republican National Committee as a radical instrument of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement, which is eager to burn down the country for political advantage. They also maintain that Biden is willing to discuss spending with Republicans, but only concerning the budget process, which regulates future spending, rather than the debt ceiling, which must be lifted to pay for existing obligations. However, this is a difficult distinction that McCarthy is attempting to muddy even as prominent Democrats worked out the party line on Sunday.
“Permit me to propose a proposal. McCarthy’s idea belongs in the budget,” Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said on the associated press’s “State of the Union.”
“Right now, our main goal is to make it clear that we will not default.” Back in 2011, when this was in the air, we saw our credit rating drop. If you move on as McCarthy desires, the ramifications will be enormous.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin also stated that Biden was willing to negotiate about the budget, but not the debt ceiling.
“If we default on our national debt, it will be extremely costly to our economy.” Businesses will be unable to continue, and individuals will be laid off in droves. That is a poor result. So let’s be responsible and not default, and let’s move forward on the debt ceiling,” the Illinois Democrat said on the associated press’s “Meet the Press.”
Durbin, like nearly everyone else on both the Democratic and Republican sides, has frequently emphasized the dangers of default. However, it is unclear how such a tragic conclusion may be avoided at this time.
At the absolute least, it will require astute political maneuvering from both Biden and McCarthy, as well as trust between the two most powerful people in Washington, which does not appear to exist. The polarization of the capital, as well as the political pressures on each guy, make it difficult to envision an opportunity for a compromise that would satisfy both sides. And the issue is just becoming worse by the day.