Democrats make a deal to avoid a debt ceiling disaster — but will they learn the real lesson?

By the time you read this, it’s possible that the debt ceiling saga will finally be over. Senate leaders have said they have the votes to pass it and as of this writing, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is set to call for a vote on the package immediately — and unless he is completely inept (which is very possible), that means he knows he has the votes. Of course, anything can happen with this volatility slim GOP House majority, as we learned during the epic speaker vote back in January. They like the drama and we may get some yet. But at this moment it appears that the deal struck by McCarthy and President Biden over the weekend is likely going to pass on a bipartisan basis over the objections of some on both the left and right, avoiding a default and any ensuing economic catastrophe.

This agreement has left a sour taste in the mouths of progressives who were led to believe that the Democratic leadership in Congress and the White House had learned their lesson from past debt ceiling showdowns and were not going to engage this time. There is intense frustration in the Democratic ranks over the GOP’s repeated hostage-taking with demands for cuts to vital programs while they behave like responsible leaders whenever a Republican is in the White House and thus engage in budget negotiations in good faith.

This time, Republicans got cuts to programs that help people but a lot of suffering was left on the cutting room floor so they feel cheated. Democrats got a reprieve from the next hostage crisis until after the election and the world was spared a default on the debt. That’s really about it. Nonetheless, there isn’t any question that the Democrats will provide enough votes to get it over the line (unless there is a mass defection among Republicans.) They aren’t terrorists and the default sword of Damocles still hovers.

The Freedom Caucus, on the other hand, is having a temper tantrum and whining about not having time to read a hundred-page bill. Or, at least some members are.

McCarthy ally Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has been promoting the deal as a huge win and her cohort Matt Gaetz, R-Fl., has been playing the role of savvy insider, moving the goalposts by saying that “if McCarthy tries to pass the debt ceiling bill with Democrats and a minority of Republicans, he would violate his deal with the Freedom Caucus when he became Speaker and would trigger an immediate Motion to Vacate him from the Speaker’s chair.” (It flows from the longstanding “Hastert Rule” which holds that a Republican speaker doesn’t put any vote on the floor that won’t pass without a majority of Republicans, even if the bill would pass the House without it. But triggering an immediate Motion to Vacate is a new twist.) Nobody’s ever heard of that “deal” before but it does help McCarthy if the rest of the Freedom Caucus goes along with the pretense that this was ever at issue. McCarthy still faces the distinct possibility of losing the gavel if just one of his members raises that motion and four decide to vote against him because Gaetz’s feint notwithstanding, there are a number of caucus members, mostly among those who were holdouts against McCarthy in that 15 rounds of voting, who are not happy with the deal.

The ringleader of the opposition seems to be Texas Rep. Chip Roy who said it’s a “betrayal of the power sharing arrangement that we put in place” and contends that if they can’t stop the bill, “then we’re going to have to then regroup and figure out the whole leadership arrangement again.” I think we know what he’s referring to there. According to CNN, Roy claimed that McCarthy had made yet another backroom deal that nobody knew about which would have required a unanimous GOP vote in the Rules Committee to vote out a piece of legislation so it could go to the floor for a vote. That demand was put to bed on Tuesday when Rules Committee and Freedom Caucus member Thomas Massie, R-Ky., voted to allow the bill to go to the floor. Now the action is all in the caucus as a whole.

But it appears that there are still several House members who are at least open to the idea of removing the Speaker over this agreement:

These people are being helped by some of the presidential candidates, none of whom were very interested during the negotiations but who are suddenly against the deal.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Mike Pence gave a typically mealy-mouthed response: “Congress’ debt limit deal doesn’t just kick the can down the road, it uses Washington smoke and mirror games to make small reforms while weakening our military at a time of increasing threats from foreign adversaries.” (The military budget wasn’t touched, but whatever.) Ron DeSantis finally weighed in telling “Fox and Friends” that “our country was careening toward bankruptcy” before the deal was struck “and after this deal, our country will still be careening toward bankruptcy.” Nikki Haley, meanwhile, pointed out that DeSantis had voted to raise the debt ceiling in 2018 and Trump signed it into law, saying that “the best way to fix Washington’s spending addiction is to elect people who have not been part of the problem.”

The only person we haven’t heard from as I write this late on Tuesday night is former president Donald J. Trump, which is odd since he has said numerous times that the GOP House should let the country default if they don’t get everything they want and “the kitchen sink,” too. You’d think he’d be out there slamming the deal, wouldn’t you? It’s unusually savvy of him to be this cautious but perhaps all the people and positions he’s endorsed who have lost have finally convinced him that his popularity doesn’t extend to anyone but himself. He could not care less about the substance so why waste the effort?

We won’t ever know what might have happened had President Biden stuck to his original stance that there would be no negotiation over the debt ceiling but considering how relatively docile the Republicans have been with the deal, it seems pretty clear that despite their caterwauling they weren’t as gung-ho to go over the cliff as they pretended to be. There’s a lesson in that somewhere but whatever it is I’m going to assume no one will remember it the next time the Republicans take the country hostage again. And there will be a next time.

If this deal accomplished anything, it was to guarantee that if Joe Biden wins re-election but the Republicans hold the House, we’ll be right back here in 2025 playing the same stupid game. If the Democrats don’t abolish this monstrous terrorist weapon the next time they get the trifecta, it will be unforgivable. 

Read more

about Republicans and the debt ceiling


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar