White House Meeting Yields No Budging on Budget, Debt Ceiling
The Tuesday meeting between congressional leaders and President Biden to discuss the debt ceiling and budget cuts went well or poorly, depending on whom you ask. Biden said the talks were “productive,” while House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he “didn’t see any new movement” towards a negotiated solution to the debt ceiling impasse. Treasury Secretary Yellen has warned the U.S. could miss payments on its debt by June 1 unless the debt ceiling is raised, and President Biden has refused to consider any plan to raise the debt ceiling that includes spending cuts.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) described the Republican effort to rein in budget deficits as “dangerous” in defense of his party’s leader in the White House. “To use the risk of default, with all the dangers that has for the American people, as a hostage and say, ‘It’s my way or no way’ … is dangerous,” said Schumer.
The president repeated the same rhetoric — complete with the word “hostage” — in a speech on Wednesday, claiming “MAGA Republicans” are “doing what, to the best of my knowledge, no other political party has done in our nation’s history. They’re literally, not figuratively, holding the economy hostage by threatening to default on our nation’s debt … unless we give in to their threats and demands.” As a senator, Biden voted for bills tying spending reforms to debt limit increases in 1985, 1987, 1993, and 1997, and he helped negotiate such deals as vice president in 2009 and 2011.
“It’s not rationable — it’s not rational, rationable. It’s not reasonable, and it’s not practical for Congress to do to be doing what they’re doing,” stumbled White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “That is where the problem should be, and that’s who should be called out.”
“Who’s not being rational? And who’s not being reasonable here?” responded Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on “Washington Watch.” “If the president refuses to negotiate, if there’s any default on the debt, I mean, that’s squarely in the hands of the president because he is the one that is refusing to negotiate in good faith and move us forward.”
Representative Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) agreed, “I don’t think the American people see that as being responsible either.”
“We cut government spending, which is what you have to do to bring us back toward a path of a balanced budget,” explained Clyde. The House-passed Limit Save Grow Act “cuts spending on the IRS,” “claws back the unspent COVID money,” “eliminates the transfer of student loan debt,” and “eliminates the Green New Deal tax credits.”
“We in the House have created and provided a responsible plan to address the debt ceiling,” Clyde added. “President Biden wants to go the irresponsible way and simply cut a new credit card and extend the limit to basically limitless. And that’s not responsible governance.”
“We did our job. We passed the Limit Save Grow Act … which was the responsible way to address the debt ceiling,” Clyde said. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Limit Save Grow Act would save $4.8 trillion through fiscal year 2033. “We have the purse, we have the checkbook,” Clyde pointed out. “President Biden needs to just acknowledge that he needs to negotiate with Speaker McCarthy. In fact, he needs to accept the only plan in Washington, D.C. now to address the debt ceiling, which is the Republican plan.”
“The party in control of the White House is ready to demagogue the Republican bill to death,” wrote National Review’s Noah Rothman. “The party will pound the table on the GOP’s plan to increase work requirements for federal beneficiaries and attack the efforts to rescind the spending devoted to climate change in a law that was supposedly designed to restore price stability.”
“Demagoguery is, however, a two-way street,” Rothman suggested, providing a sampling of possible Republican rebuttals to Democratic arguments:
“Will Democrats risk default merely to preserve the unspent funds American taxpayers devoted to an emergency that’s over, Republicans might ask? Do Democrats want to play chicken with America’s credit rating in defense of the orgy of spending on climate-related giveaways passed under the surreptitious guise that it somehow puts downward pressure on inflation? Is returning to last year’s discretionary spending levels such an apocalyptic prospect that the party in power would put the country’s finances at risk? If cutting spending in exchange for a debt ceiling hike is such an abdication of responsibility, why was that precise sequence of events routine for so many years leading up to this impasse?”
Nevertheless, Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) have charged Republicans with refusing to negotiate. Biden also accused Republicans of attempting to cut veterans’ care, which McCarthy called a “lie.” Biden previously accused Republicans of attempting to cut Social Security and Medicaid, which McCarthy has insisted the bill does not do.
“The president just has to understand that he needs to negotiate with Speaker McCarthy,” emphasized Clyde, noting that Biden’s “entire lifetime in government has been about negotiation.”
After the meeting, Biden said, “I have been considering the 14th Amendment,” an option that would allow him to unilaterally ignore the debt limit, but which relies upon a fringe legal theory never adopted by any branch of the U.S. government. “The problem is, it would have to be litigated. And in the meantime, without an extension, we still end up in the same place,” said Biden. Invoking the 14th Amendment would enable Biden to avoid negotiation, but the legal battle to determine whether it was constitutional would take time. National Review’s Rich Lowry wrote that the 14th amendment theory is an “absurd” power grab because “The debt limit is the logical extension of Congress’s power to tax and spend.”
Meanwhile, some members of the president’s own party don’t understand why Biden refuses to negotiate. “It’s not rational, it’s not reasonable, and it’s not practical,” said Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). “It’s hypocritical to say that we’re not going to do it now, when we’ve done it every time that there has been a split in the party.” Manchin said the only time when inter-party negotiations weren’t discussed is when the same party held control of “the [White House], the House, and the Senate.”
Biden prefers a “clean” debt ceiling increase without accompanying spending cuts. However, Clyde pointed out, not only can Biden not push such legislation through the Republican-controlled House, but he can’t even get it through the Senate. On Saturday, 43 Republican senators signed a letter declaring that “the Senate Republican conference is united behind the House Republican conference in support of spending cuts and structural budget reform as a starting point for negotiations on the debt ceiling.” Before a clean debt ceiling increase could pass the Senate, Senate Democrats would need to convince at least three of those Republicans, plus every Senate Democrat and the six Republicans who did not sign onto the letter, to vote with them to break a filibuster.
McCarthy and Biden will meet again on Friday for further debt ceiling discussions. Clyde predicted that the White House was “going to try and push it to the very end. But they don’t have to. They could do the right thing for the American people and come to an agreement this very week, and the Senate could pass it.”
“We’re not going to back down from this,” Clyde pledged.
For context, Perkins explained, “historically it’s been that the Republicans capitulate” in debt ceiling negotiations. But “this time, what I’m seeing in this Congress, with this Republican majority in the House, it’s different,” he said.
Clyde attributed this newfound backbone to the historically lengthy process for nominating McCarthy as House Speaker with a tiny majority, which he said “achieved transformational change in the way Congress operates” and “united the Republican conference more than anything I have ever seen.”
“And I don’t think the president and the Democratic Party know how to deal with it,” Perkins concluded.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.