Now that Republicans hold the House, they’re pushing back. Two House committees held the first hearings of their investigations into Joe Biden’s presidency on Wednesday, Feb. 1. Democrats decried the two-pronged attack, but for Republicans, it surely felt like a healthy dose of comeuppance. Meanwhile, the president had an hour-long chat with Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) but failed to convince the lawmaker to accede to demands that the debt limit be raised without any promise of spending cuts.
Biden’s Turn in the Hot Seat
The House Judiciary Committee – now led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), one of the two lawmakers former-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refused to seat on the Jan. 6 committee – opened its probe with a hearing titled “The Biden Border Crisis: Part I,” and the House Oversight and Accountability Committee held a hearing on waste, fraud, and abuse in federal pandemic spending led by Chairman James Comer (R-KY). The two Republicans had vowed to investigate the president during a November press conference last year after their party won control of the House – a promise they can now say they’re keeping as committee chairs.
“Under President Trump, the border was secure,” Jordan said in his opening remarks. “Under President Biden, there is no border, and Americans are paying the price.” Strip away the hyperbole, and the lawmaker has a solid point. There were a little over 850,000 encounters at the border in 2019. That number dropped considerably to around 450,000 in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic panic, but it jumped to 1.7 million in 2021. Over the last fiscal year, there have been approximately 2.4 million such encounters. Do 850,000 encounters with illegals at the border – never mind those who made it across without detection – signify a secure border? Not quite. Does that number more than tripling in just a couple of years to 2.4 million mean there’s no border security at all? Of course not.
But it’s fair to say the difference over so short a period of time is drastic enough that one can forgive the hyperbole. Rep. Jordan may have exaggerated the point, but not by much.
The House Oversight and Accountability Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing of its own with US border Patrol agents next week, but this Wednesday, Oversight tackled the president’s pandemic policies and the waste, fraud, and benefits abuse that occurred on Biden’s watch. Joining Chairman Comer on the committee are Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Paul Gosar (R-AZ). Each of them had been targeted by the Democrat majority and Speaker Pelosi specifically for their support of Donald Trump, some even being censured and stripped of committee assignments in the previous session. For these Republicans, the day’s events must have felt like comeuppance.
“We owe it to Americans to identify how hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars spent under the guise of pandemic relief were lost to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement,” Comer said. Since the beginning of the pandemic – both under Trump and Biden – Congress has approved trillions in COVID relief spending, and more than 1,000 people have pleaded guilty or been convicted of defrauding the government so far.
Republicans Aren’t Backing Down
Republicans aren’t pulling any punches. The various investigations to come clearly target the president, his family, administration, and policies, and the two hearings Wednesday laid the blame for both their respective issues squarely in his lap. But Biden wasn’t the only one to feel the pressure. During the House Rules Committee’s discussion of H. Con. Res. 9 – a resolution to denounce the “horrors of socialism” – Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) had her moment in the spotlight.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) threw her own words back at her, then asked if she stood by them today. “I’ve got one question for the ranking member,” Roy said. “Ranking Member Waters, in a 2008 hearing, you said quote, ‘and guess what, this liberal will be all about? This liberal will be all about socializing – would be about basically taking over the government and the government running all of your companies’ end quote. Simple question: do you stand by that statement?”
The 2008 hearing in question featured oil executives testifying to Congress regarding the rising gas prices. When they explained the cost at the pump would only go up if they weren’t allowed to drill more, Waters said she would support “the government running all of your companies.” The California Democrat rejected the label Wednesday, though. “I’m not a socialist,” she insisted.
McCarthy-Biden Standoff Continues
Democrats got used to pushing Republicans to acquiesce or simply steamrolling over them when they stood firm – but that time has passed. President Biden may finally be figuring that out after his visit with McCarthy. The president and speaker discussed the debt limit and spending for about an hour Wednesday and came up dry, neither side backing down. McCarthy refused to make any explicit commitment that the US wouldn’t default on its debts, and instead insisted on negotiating spending cuts. Biden, for his part, maintains that he’s unwilling to discuss balancing the budget until the House increases the debt limit to cover what has already been obligated.
“President Biden made clear that, as every other leader in both parties in Congress has affirmed, it is their shared duty not to allow an unprecedented and economically catastrophic default,” the White House said afterward. “The United States Constitution is explicit about this obligation, and the American people expect Congress to meet it in the same way all of his predecessors have. It is not negotiable or conditional.”
The president countered McCarthy’s offer to work together to find and cut out wasteful spending with a promise to create a commission to study ways to curb spending in return for a debt ceiling increase, but McCarthy rejected the offer. “I don’t need a commission to tell me where there’s waste, fraud and abuse. … Nobody needs a commission in the American public to tell us that we have spent too much,” he said.
“If you have a child, and you give them a credit card and they spend it to the limit, you’re responsible for paying that credit card,” the speaker explained. “But the responsible thing to do going forward is not to raise the limit, but to look at how you’re spending.”
Both parties agree that the debts must be paid, and both claim to understand that the runaway spending must be addressed. But how can McCarthy trust the president’s promise to try and spend less in the future? Biden himself pushed for trillions in new spending in his so-called Build Back Better agenda. The debt limit is still the best leverage Republicans hold over Democrats, who continue to push for more funding each year as if they weren’t aware it’s other people’s money – much of it borrowed from other countries – they’re spending. Republicans have treated the debt limit as a separate item before on the promise Democrats will help balance the budget. How many times are they expected to fall for the same old trick?
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