Good news! The nation will not go into default next Monday. President Joe Biden used his decades of negotiating skills, which he honed in the Senate, to come out of the deal as the winner. Even Peter Baker, the often cynical, snark-filled reporter for The New York Times, conceded that Biden was “the calm man in the capital” who bested House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Baker notes Biden was able to accomplish this win by downplaying his achievements, “in striking contrast to his negotiating partner, [...] McCarthy, who has been running all over the Capitol in recent days asserting that the deal was a ‘historic’ victory for fiscal conservatives.”
The bargain Biden made gave McCarthy a win as well: diluting the power of the Freedom Caucus. While the group of far-right lawmakers might have played kingmaker with McCarthy during his tortuous five-day, 15-vote path to the speakership, they couldn’t prevail over the majority of their colleagues who didn’t want to follow them over the cliff into default. For all their histrionics over McCarthy’s betrayal, their revolt didn’t so much fizzle as entirely fail to ignite. Not only did they fail to bring any Republicans to their side, they didn’t even achieve consensus in their own ranks. Some of them even voted for the deal, and the one or two calls for McCarthy’s speakership to be challenged have fallen flat. McCarthy comes out of this owing the Freedom Caucus nothing.
In fact, McCarthy comes out of this owing Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and the Democrats, whose votes gave him a comfortable win in the House on this bill. While he managed to get a majority vote from his Republicans, more Democrats than Republicans supported the bill—165 of them. Where the Democrats really stepped up, though, was in the procedural vote on the rule that moved the deal to the floor. The Hill described the drama as the minutes ticked down and the rule was failing.
Before the vote closed, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) held up a green card in an apparent signal of approval for his members to change their votes and help Republicans pass the rule. Democratic members flooded the Well of the House to manually change their votes after voting electronically—though Jeffries remained a ‘nay.’
Game, set, and match.
The Democrats had previously proven their unanimity in resolving the crisis, with every single one of them signing a discharge petition to move a clean debt ceiling hike—with none of the Republican budgetary strings—to the floor. They didn’t find five Republicans to join them, but their cohesion was critical.
Despite the win, Democrats aren’t exactly crowing about how it all played out. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray spoke for just about every other Democrat on the floor ahead of the Senate vote.
She added: "But let's get one thing straight—hostage-taking is not regular order. It is just not. That's not the way we should arrive at the top-lines for our spending bills."
The primary failing of this deal is that it cements hostage-taking as regular order. It won’t happen until after the 2024 election, because this deal suspends the debt ceiling until Jan. 1, 2025, just before the new Congress is convened. But it’s a safe bet that next year’s lame-duck session will feature the debt ceiling hostage-taking all over again.
The agreement also concedes several destructive Republican narratives, the most troubling being the idea that work requirements—which don’t save federal dollars, don’t increase employment, and only serve to harm already economically vulnerable people—are an acceptable policy solution. And of course, the deal also reinforces favorite Republican talking points that the IRS is the enemy and the deficit is paramount over policy, something that can only be addressed through cuts, not revenue.
That’s the bad news.
Now to the downright ugly: The entire negotiation process set a terrible precedent and rewarded some of the worst, including West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who got a totally unrelated Mountain Valley Pipeline proposal greenlit by Congress despite the strong opposition of the majority of the Virginia delegation and despite racking up dozens of environmental violations during the construction of the pipeline. It shuts down avenues for most legal challenges to the project going forward. Manchin negotiated this deal with McCarthy, the White House allowed it, and in the process completely blindsided Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who called the whole thing “slimy.”
“It shouldn’t be members of Congress putting their thumb on the scale," Kaine said of the deal, and he’s right. But its inclusion means that other bad actors have nothing but incentive to use the debt ceiling for their extraneous, nefarious ends in the future.
From the start, Biden and the Democrats said they would not negotiate with terrorists, that they would not set policy with a gun to the nation’s head, and that the Republicans, with their tiny majority in one half of the legislative branch, had to be held to their obligation of shared power. Democrats maintained that the full faith and credit of the United States could not be questioned and that Republicans would be held to that basic principle. So much for that.
Patty Murray is absolutely right when she says, “It is time we put an end to this dangerous brinkmanship at the next possible opportunity by scrapping this debt ceiling.” Biden has suggested that after all this was resolved, he’d consider the constitutional question of the debt limit. He probably won’t do that now, but he needs to get his constitutional ducks in a row for late 2024, ahead of that next deadline, so we don’t have to put the nation at risk again. It’s time to put an end to the hostage-taking once and for all.
Senate passes debt ceiling deal, averts default
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House Freedom Caucus neutered by debt ceiling deal
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As talks stall, Biden hints at end-around on debt ceiling
We have Rural Organizing’s Aftyn Behn. Markos and Aftyn talk about what has been happening in rural communities across the country and progressives’ efforts to engage those voters. Behn also gives the podcast a breakdown of which issues will make the difference in the coming elections.