House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is meeting with President Joe Biden this Wednesday, Feb. 1, to discuss the debt limit. But don’t get too excited; the commander-in-chief promised there is to be no negotiation on spending cuts. The administration has taken the firm stance that the House will increase the borrowing cap, no strings attached. The president’s grand plan amounts to a game of political chicken, and Biden seems to believe McCarthy will swerve away first. Will his fellow Republicans let him?
A Debt Limit Deal Dead on Arrival?
President Biden reportedly welcomes his coming chat with Speaker McCarthy, but his hard-line stance against any spending cuts renders the conversation all but pointless. Instead of having a productive talk, Biden is refusing to entertain the idea of decreasing the budget and demanding the House GOP reveal a plan before any discussion. “Show me your budget, I’ll show you mine,” the president said Monday. That is, of course, essentially what Speaker McCarthy is trying to accomplish by discussing it with Biden in the first place.
As the meeting – and, more importantly, the risk of default – draws nigh, the White House strategy is to dig in and defend the no-spending cuts stance, relying on time and public opinion to force McCarthy’s hand. But does Biden really believe there’s no wasteful spending at all? “I mean, to think that the president believes there’s no place in government you can’t cut and have a savings for the hardworking taxpayers? There’s so much waste out there, and we’ve got to put ourselves back on a trajectory that balances,” McCarthy said Monday evening. “We need to sit down together, find common ground, find where we can eliminate waste, and let’s put our country back on a path where we can balance and get our future brighter than before.”
That’s the Plan; Just Wait Them Out?
Rather than give up a penny of the nation’s out-of-control spending, Biden thinks whatever cuts McCarthy reveals will be so unpopular that other House Republicans will back down – and then push the speaker to do so as well, if necessary. But what happens if Republicans do, indeed, present a balanced budget that actually works and that most Americans find reasonable? What if – gasp! – the people blame Biden and the Democrats for refusing to negotiate rather than the GOP? It’s unclear what the president expects to accomplish, but a total acquiescence to raising the debt limit without any spending cuts isn’t coming – not today, in any case.
McCarthy still faces pressure from within his own House majority not to back down on this issue – it was part of the arrangement that cleared the way for his election as speaker. And now, 24 GOP senators – about half the Senate Republican Conference – are warning they will oppose any debt limit increase without significant fiscal reforms. Rather than pinning all his hopes on winning the game of political chicken – and sooner, rather than later – it’s time Biden started thinking of a plan B. Good faith negotiations, perhaps?
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