President Joe Biden is gathering congressional leadership at the White House Tuesday afternoon to talk directly to two Republicans: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Biden aims to walk them back from the looming default cliff. Democratic leaders, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, will be there for moral support and to remind Republicans that Democrats still hold a combined 263 House and Senate votes for a clean bill that lifts or suspends the debt ceiling with no strings attached.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen informed Congress that the nation will hit its borrowing limit, the debt ceiling, by the first week of June. If Congress doesn’t act to either add more money to the borrowing limit or suspend the debt ceiling to a later date, the bills don’t get paid. That means Social Security payments are delayed or not sent at all, along with military pay. It means our foreign partners are getting payments on loans they’ve extended. It means the national and global economies would be plunged into recession.
McCarthy and McConnell will be at the meeting Tuesday to represent the Freedom Caucus since that group has been calling all the shots. The bill the House passed last month is essentially the Freedom Caucus wish list. McConnell and 42 of his Republican Senate colleagues have signed on to that plan, and the hostage-taking. Give us these economically devastating budget cuts, they are saying to Biden, and we won’t force the nation into a catastrophic default. Those are the choices uniting Republicans: Economic destruction one way or the other, on Biden’s watch.
The meat of the bill is those spending cuts the Freedom Caucus demanded, and got. That includes rolling back overall appropriations for all discretionary programs, meaning the ones that Congress has to approve spending for every two years, to 2022 levels. All the programs, that is, except defense. Exempting the huge defense budget, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young explained in a White House statement, “means that everything else in annual appropriations—from cancer research, to education, to veterans’ health care—would be cut by much more.”
Democrats have been hammering those cuts to veterans’ care, with good results. McCarthy had to respond, insisting that he will not allow cuts that hurt veterans, just like he won’t allow cuts to defense, Social Security, or Medicare. That presents a big math problem for Republicans, because if those programs are left out of the mix, the budgets for everything else would have to be cut by 51% over the next decade for his numbers to add up. That’s everything from nutrition assistance for mothers and children to food inspections to air traffic control to cancer research and everything in between.
No wonder there’re rumors of unrest among some of the supposed “moderate” Republicans in the House. It’s all about McCarthy’s two-faced dealing in getting that bill passed. He reportedly promised the Freedom Caucus that he would not budge from the hard lines they demanded in any deal with Biden. “What Kevin has assured us is he’s not coming back and presenting a watered-down version,” South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman told CNN.
At the same time, McCarthy was promising the so-called moderate Republicans that the bill would never become law, that it was entirely symbolic and passing it was necessary to prove that the House Republican majority could show a united front against Biden and the Democratic Senate.
Biden is going to exploit those fears from the moderates on Wednesday in a trip to New York, specifically Westchester County. That’s freshman Republican Rep. Michael Lawler’s district, and it’s important because it’s a district that Biden took in 2020, beating Donald Trump. Lawler will soon have a chance to prove just how moderate he is or if he’ll cave to pressure from the extremists in his party. Taking on the moderates in their home districts demonstrates that Biden isn’t ready to back down and isn’t afraid of taking the fight to their backyards.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Government Employees might save the day in the courts. It has filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that the debt ceiling statute is unconstitutional. “The Fourteenth Amendment requires the President to meet obligations to the holders of federal debt,” the complaint states. “To do so, he must either borrow or find the necessary funds to do so from cancelling, suspending, or refusing to carry out spending already approved by Congress.”
That’s all true, but it’s an argument that the White House hasn’t been willing to make itself. Yellen has said that the president himself can’t decide to ignore Congress and lift the debt ceiling unilaterally. That would create a constitutional crisis, she insists. Raising the debt limit without Congress is an untested theory. These federal employees who will be facing furloughs and layoffs if the nation defaults are in a good position to put it in the courts’ hands to decide the issue once and for all.
Two-faced McCarthy on full display in debt ceiling showdown
Biden: 'We pay our bills ... without reckless hostage-taking'
Democrats look to solve debt ceiling crisis on their own
2023 may be an odd-year, but that just means Virginia takes its traditional place as one of the key states to watch. With odd-year state elections Virginia has often been a key bellwether for the rest of the country, and this year is no different. Both the state Senate and the General Assembly are up, and both chambers could be won by either party. Daily Kos Elections Editor Jeff Singer joins us to preview the key races in both the June primary and the fall general election.