Voices: McCarthy vs Biden: We’re in the first act of a play that could end in tragedy
The United States is still slouching toward hitting the debt limit by the end of the month – with little indication of a resolution thus far.
Last week’s letter from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen should have necessitated the White House and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to come to some kind of agreement. But instead, Joe Biden and the House speaker postponed their planned meeting to next week, letting their staff meet in the interim. A White House source told my colleague Andrew Feinberg that this was a positive development and it would actually move negtations forward.
Conversely, House Republicans spent much of this week focusing on passing an immigration bill that is dead on arrival in the Democratic-led Senate. Meawhile, Mr McCarthy chided the White House and said “it seems like they want a default more than they want a deal.”
As I wrote on Thursday, Mr McCarthy and House Republicans passed the immigration bill hoping to pillory the Biden administration for the end of Title 42, the Trump administration-era policy put in place at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic that was used as a means to restrict immigration.
So far, Mr McCarthy has been focusing on passing right-wing priorities he knows have no chance of clearing a Senate led by Democrats, but has needed to signal to the conservatives who hesitated to support his speaker bid back in January that he would prioritize their concerns.
This is the same reason why the House GOP passed a debt limit proposal that would roll back massive swaths of the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats’ signature climate and health bill passed last year. For his part, Mr Biden has slammed the GOP bill for “literally, not figuratively, holding the economy hostage by threatening to default.”
Specifically, Mr Biden has attacked Republicans for wanting to revert back to spending levels from the previous fiscal year with the exception of cutting defense, which he said would harm veterans and cut funding for law enforcement as well as air traffic control.
Mr Biden clearly sees the Republican proposal as the perfect foil for his own pitch for a clean debt limit raise. He made these characterisations when visited Valhalla, New York, which is part of a district that he won but is represented by Republican Representative Mike Lawler, this week.
In classic Biden fashion, he praised Mr Lawler as “the kind of Republican I was used to dealing with” when he was a senator, rather than “one of these MAGA Republicans.” Mr Biden likely hopes that he can pick off just enough swing district Republicans to not go alog with the GOP spending cuts. But Mr Lawler, along with many other moderate Republicans, is a McCarthy loyalist and picking him off is a only a remote possibility.
But for all the sniping and back and forth, neither side has shown a willingness to actually budge from their positions. And the more time that they spend feuding, the more the clock runs out and they will ultimately wind up having to make more concessions than they initially wanted – or risk economic catastrophe.