Friday’s stop-and-go debt limit negotiations ended with no sign of progress and no future meetings on the matter scheduled. The GOP had paused the talks earlier in the day, presumably a sign the proceedings were going nowhere fast, but negotiators came back to the table in the evening for another go at it. While this might have temporarily raised hopes, it now seems those efforts were in vain.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are pursuing a Hail Mary of their own, striving to gain enough signatures on a discharge petition to force the House into voting on another debt limit bill. President Biden, on the other hand, says he isn’t worried. Instead of working on the issue at home, he’s in Japan discussing climate change and social issues with G7 leaders. With less than two weeks to the so-called x-date of June 1, the clock is ticking. How will the debt limit debacle end – deal, discharge, or default?
A Deal in the Works – Or Just Wasted Words?
All the back and forth on Friday, May 19, seems to have been for naught. Republicans had cut short the morning meeting with White House officials at the Capitol, accusing the other side of being “unreasonable.” After the breakdown, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made an appearance, telling reporters that the White House was unwilling to accept the spending cuts Republicans insist on passing.
“We’ve got to get movement by the White House, and we don’t have any movement yet,” McCarthy said. “So, yeah, we’ve gotta pause.” He continued:
“Yesterday I really felt like we were at the location where I could see the path. The White House is just – look, we can’t be spending more money next year. We have to spend less than we spent the year before. It’s pretty easy.”
Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), one of the negotiators who had walked out earlier, accused White House reps as being “unreasonable right now,” and said they had to pause because “it’s just not productive.”
“Until people are willing to have reasonable conversations about how you can actually move forward and do the right thing, then we’re not gonna sit here and talk to ourselves,” he added.
Talks resumed in the evening, raising the hope that there had been at least some of the “movement” toward “reasonable conversations” that both McCarthy and Graves pined for just that morning. “We’ll be back in the room tonight,” McCarthy said in an interview on Fox Business. Representatives of both sides were seen entering a conference room shortly after.
When all their words had been spoken, however, it seemed the emerging negotiators had nothing new to say. Another day ended without any progress cited and without any future meeting set. In short, Friday’s talks ended without a clear path forward.
Debt Limit Backup Plan
House Democrats are pursuing another plan for dealing with the debt limit. While much media coverage and progressive activism has been dedicated to the idea that the 14th Amendment allows – no, requires – Biden to declare the debt limit unconstitutional, the administration remains skeptical. White House officials have warned that it could spark a legal battle they might not win, undermine global faith in the US, and damage the economy. “They have not ruled it out,” one White House adviser told Politico, “but it is not currently part of the plan.”
What Democrats are doing, however, is trying to get enough signatures on a discharge petition to sidestep Speaker McCarthy on calling a vote in the House. Should the requisite 218 signatures materialize, it would force the House to bring to the floor another debt limit bill – but it’s almost as much of a longshot as successfully evoking the 14th Amendment to remove the debt limit.
Normally, the speaker decides what bills make it to the House floor for a vote. Assuming one can gather 218 signatures – a slight majority – a discharge petition can force the issue. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) directed House Democrats to collect signatures on Wednesday. So far, 210 have signed – every Democrat save for three holdouts. No Republican has yet crossed the aisle, and it seems unlikely any will. Even with Reps. Mary Peltola of Alaska, Ed Case of Hawaii, and Jared Golden of Maine, Jeffries would still need five Republicans – eight if those three recalcitrant Democrats don’t sign.
Discharge petitions rarely work for one simple reason: party unity. The speaker typically belongs to the majority party and shares the party’s agenda. When the majority of the House wants a vote, the speaker calls it. Discharge petitions almost always come from a minority party that hopes just enough will cross the aisle and join them to result in triumph. It’s a Hail Mary pass, and according to data analysis from the Brookings Institution, it has led to success in less than 4% of the 639 attempts since 1935. Even if it did work this time, then there would be the actual floor vote the petition wins. Just because between five and eight Republicans sign the petition doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll vote with the Democrats afterward.
Whether they’re all for show or narrative control – or even simply the product of panic – no “backup plan” like a discharge petition or 14th Amendment reinterpretation seems likely to end this debt limit debacle. But will a deal be reached before the dreaded default?
All opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Liberty Nation.
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