In the Game of Budget Chicken, Who Will Blink First?
President Joe Biden may have invited the top four congressional leaders to the White House, but no one is quite sure why. According to the White House, he has no intentions of debating the budget bill that House Republicans passed earlier this month. Despite the ticking time bomb of a national default, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted Biden “is not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling.” Republicans need to “do their job,” she argued. But Republicans have, Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) fired back. “[We] put forth a budget,” she said. “We’ve done our job. Now it’s the president’s job and the Democrats’ job, quite frankly, to do theirs.”
With the clock running out on the June 1 deadline that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen set, paying the government’s bills seems like an impossible task. The Democrats’ inflexibility is even more problematic, The Washington Post warns, since May 16 is the last date all of the major players are set to be in D.C. Thanks to Biden’s travel plans and the Memorial Day recess, the “X date,” as Yellen calls the day America runs out of money to pay down its loans, is barreling down the track.
But his refusal to negotiate puts Biden in the minority, Politico points out. Everyone from business groups to Wall Street executives have demanded that Democrats stop their stonewalling and deal. “You know, it’s been 90 days since President Biden met with Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy (R-Calif.),” Rep. Ron Estes (R-Kan.) told guest host Joseph Backholm on “Washington Watch” on Tuesday, “and the president hasn’t done anything since then.”
“We did what we were supposed to do,” the Kansan insisted. “The Republicans in the House voted to extend the debt limit for the United States government. But the issue is not whether you raise the debt ceiling — but whether you address the overspending. You know, this fiscal year, we’re going to spend $1.5 trillion more than we bring in as revenue. That means one out of every $5 that the federal government spends is going to be borrowed.”
Meanwhile, Democrats like Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are resorting to a familiar tactic: fearmongering. “The Republicans would pull cops off our streets,” she claimed about the spending cuts in the House bill, “drive a wrecking ball through our border security, making it easier for deadly fentanyl to flood our streets.”
That’s baloney, Estes said. All Republicans have proposed for fiscal year 2024 are “the same spending levels that we had in FY22 … If that’s ‘a wrecking ball,’ I don’t know what she’s thinking.”
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins agreed, telling McClain earlier in the week, “COVID is over, but the spending levels [have remained] the same under the Democrats. They want to continue to spend at these elevated levels. … The Republicans are just saying, ‘Let’s dial this back to a reasonable level.’”
Exactly, McClain nodded. “At the end of the day, we have to pay our bills. Constitutionally, we are obligated to pay our bills, and we’re doing that. … [But] right now, government has a spending problem. We have got to get our spending under control. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. … I find it very difficult to believe that there is not $1 that the Biden administration thinks that we can be more efficient on or more effective. … So what we did is we put forth a plan — and a very good one at that — that protects Social Security, protects Medicare, Medicaid, but gets our spending in line. … This budget saves $4.8 trillion. We’re going to claw back the unspent COVID money. … [W]e’re eliminating a lot of the wokeness in … this current administration’s budget with all of the ESG funding. So I think we’ve made a start. We have a lot more to go, but it’s at least a start that we can pay our bills and we can get our spending and our fiscal house in order.”
Of course, that’s not what Democrats are telling the American people. They’re saying the Republicans are holding the country hostage or putting families at risk. “I think the issue gets muddied up because of the misinformation that comes out of the Democrats,” Estes insisted, “particularly in the Senate and President Biden. I mean, we can’t go pay off one credit card with another credit card. That’s just not sustainable over time. So we’ve got to make common-sense decisions around what it is we’re going to spend and make sure that we get our spending in line with the revenue that comes in so that we can pay our debts.”
Drawing a hard line and refusing to sit down and compromise isn’t leadership. And, more importantly, Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) told Perkins, it’s not what voters sent both parties to Washington to do. “For [Democrats] to stick their head in the sand — like they’ve done through so many of their crises — the southern border, the opioid epidemic, what happened in Afghanistan — [can’t] continue,” he insisted. “The American people will demand … that they come to the table and try to find some reasonable path towards avoiding default.”
Whether Biden likes it or not, he will ultimately have to take steps to meet Republicans halfway. “This is what our form of government is,” Murphy reminded people. “There is give and take. That’s what the American people expect… [yet] the Biden administration — really since day one — has seen their administration [as] primarily one-party rule … akin pretty much to communist China.” But, he pointed out, “… the vast majority want compromise. Compromise is what has moved this nation forward for the last 200 plus years. And they’re going to need it.”
For Democrats, who are used to watching Republicans crumble under pressure, the new House will be a rude awakening. “You know, we went through a torturous first week,” Murphy said of the speaker’s race. “I had my own opinion about whether that really needed to happen [to] the extent that it did. But I think other than maybe one or two individuals, we’ve come together really as a unified group. We’ve noticed that we were able to respect our differences and work towards commonalities [and] compromise within our own party to move things forward.”
Now? “It’s in their hands. It’s in the Democrats’ hands,” he reiterated.
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.