[guest post by JVW]
I’ve been listening to The Editors podcast from NRO recently and at the same time reading some articles done by Noah Rothman, who recently came over to National Review after about eight years as Commentary. Despite the incessant mainstream media crowing about how the Biden Administration and Congressional Democrats had cornered Republicans on the debt ceiling negotiations, creating a scenario in which the GOP would likely have to capitulate and agree to a “clean” raising of the debt ceiling without any concessions, Mr. Rothman believes that Speaker Kevin McCarthy may have turned the tables on the Dems by negotiating a deal with the fractious Republican House caucus:
When House Speaker Kevin McCarthy revealed his plan to couple spending cuts and revisions to the Democrats’ preferred social programs with a debt-ceiling hike, it seemed to me like a risky bet.
The substance of the speaker’s proposal wasn’t overly ambitious — particularly since the stakes of his gamble were limited by the improbability that his proposals would get a fair hearing from Democrats in the Senate and White House. His plan to raise the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion or until March 2024 (whichever came first) would be linked to capping discretionary spending at 2022 levels. Indeed, by abandoning the desire to return to pre-pandemic spending rates, McCarthy had actually moved slightly in the Democrats’ direction.
Beyond that, McCarthy sought to reclaim unobligated funds appropriated to address the Covid emergency, which is now over. The measure would also include augmented work requirements for eligible, able-bodied recipients of federal relief programs, and it would pare back the provisions in the so-called Inflation Reduction Act that had nothing whatsoever to do with inflation. In sum, it was an unobjectionable opening bid.
Naturally, this sop to Democrats didn’t sit well with some of the more pugnacious members of the caucus, and McCarthy found himself having to reprise his role as bargainer/conciliator visiting reluctant Republicans to convince them that this was the best hand that the GOP had to play. In the end he was successful, and he lost no more than the four votes he could afford to lose, winning over recalcitrants like Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and my old schoolmate Thomas Massie. Noted horse’s ass Matt Gaetz demanded and received the augmented work requirements, then voted against the bill anyway.
This counts as a win for McCarthy and the Republican House members. The Biden Administration’s strategy has been to refuse to negotiate with McCarthy, demanding total surrender on the assumption that the Speaker would have no chance of getting 218 votes (one Republican member and two Democrats were absent from Thursday morning’s vote, thus the final vote was 217-215 in favor) on a bill, and therefore the final agreement would be written by Chuck Schumer with minimal input from Cocaine Mitch McConnell (who understandably does not like these sort of high-wire negotiations). But now, with an actual House-passed bill on the table, the Senate will have to act and the Biden Administration will have to horse trade. Here is more from Noah Rothman:
The party in control of the White House is ready to demagogue the Republican bill to death, according to Politico’s reporting. 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.
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?
Indeed, with Republicans united, it’s the Democrats who are now starting to blink. “He should negotiate on the budget,” Senator Amy Klobuchar said of Biden on Sunday. “That is the place to negotiate, and they should start those negotiations now.” Senator Joe Manchin agreed, adding that McCarthy’s is the “only bill actually moving through Congress that would prevent default.” House Democrats such as Representatives Debbie Dingell and Greg Landsman are also starting to publicly sour on the White House’s strategy of stonewalling House Republicans.
The GOP won’t end up getting everything they voted on in this bill. It’s doubtful that the entire remaining balance of the COVID emergency funds will be rescinded, a one-percent cap on spending growth if imposed will almost certainly be violated the moment we turn our attention elsewhere, and Democrats will find a way around the tightening of work requirements for welfare recipients. But the GOP proposal cancels the thousands of new IRS workers the Democrats planned to hire and revokes the student loan forgiveness scheme the Biden Administration attempted to impose unconstitutionally by Executive Order. The Administration may actually want an escape hatch from this ill-conceived campaign pander and would welcome being able to blame it on those nasty old Republicans, lest the whole thing be struck down by the courts as an obvious abuse of Executive power.
If the GOP plan were incorporated in full, the Congressional Budget Office calculates that the savings over ten years would come to around $4.8 trillion. That sounds impressive right up until Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz), one of the four Republicans who voted nay, points out that come 2033 the national debt would “only” be $47 trillion instead of the projected $52 trillion. This is an opening salvo in a long battle to acknowledge the havoc that massive levels of debt are doing to our economy and our society, but at least the GOP now has taken the field in full armor.