early and often

House Members’ Griping on Debt-Limit Deal Shows Bipartisanship Lives

Debt crisis time at the Capitol. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

In recent weeks many political pundits have opined that the struggle to secure a debt-limit measure shows the sad decline of the bipartisan traditions that used to keep the country humming along. But, as I believe we are about to discover, there’s actually some important bipartisan agreement on the subject, particularly in the deeply divided U.S. House of Representatives: Very few people in either party want to support the kind of deal Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy are likely to strike.

As a deal grows closer, the grumbling from both Democratic and Republican members of the House is growing louder by the minute. The Hill reports that the hard-core conservatives who insisted on taking the debt-limit measure hostage in the first place are lining up to vote against a deal with the inevitable (if modest) concessions to Democrats:

Hard-line conservatives are fuming over the debt deal compromise being negotiated between Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the White House — and they’re warning about collapsing GOP support….

The party’s right flank had lined up behind the GOP debt limit bill in April, with McCarthy winning support from some members who had never before voted for a debt limit increase. But while most Republicans saw that bill as a starting point for negotiations with Biden and expected compromise, many now insist that the GOP “hold the line” behind the bill and resist significant compromise….

“What I’m hearing is that they punted student loans. What I’m hearing is that they’re not engaging and making the changes necessary to the Inflation Reduction Act, which has basically got a $1.2 trillion price tag. What I’m hearing is that they’re not talking about getting rid of the IRS,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said. 

Meanwhile, Politico Playbook reports House Democrats are becoming mutinous:

Biden’s own party continues to grumble that the White House is losing the messaging war. And House Dems are especially peeved that Biden is planning to leave Washington for the weekend. “Please tell me that’s not true,” one anonymous Dem lawmaker told our colleagues. “You’re going to see a caucus that’s so pissed if he’s stupid enough to do that.” …

Then there’s the discontent over the contents of a deal, which is prompting some surprising Democrats to warn that their votes for a deal are far from assured, according to CNN. Late last night, Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) — the kind of moderate Democrat whose vote Biden will ultimately need — told our colleague Adam Cancryn that he remains noncommittal on backing any compromise.

The dynamic behind all this kvetching about the negotiations from elements of both parties is simple: Most politicians want to oppose whatever deal is worked out. Why? Because the prevailing opinion among Democratic activists in Washington and around the country is that any concessions on spending are too much, while among Republican activists there is a passionate belief that any deal that doesn’t include massive spending cuts and conservative policy riders is too little. The two parties are in fundamental disagreement over the size and shape of federal spending and all sorts of side issues (including conservative demands that every single poor person receiving federal benefits go to work). Compromising on any of these issues to deal with what remains the largely abstract proposition of a debt default is and will remain unpopular in both parties’ bases. And as polling makes clear, the broader public is completely confused and malleable on all the issues related to the debt-limit debate; there’s really no constituency out there for a particular solution.

So the toughest job for the negotiators may not be reaching agreement on a debt-limit deal. It may be the subsequent task of deciding which members of Congress (particularly in the House, where the deal is in most danger) will be given permission to vote against it while securing an overall majority, plus the majority of Republicans required by one of the concessions McCarthy made to secure his Speakership in January.

When the crisis is safely past, you can expect that a lot of those lucky members vouchsafed a “no” vote will waste no effort informing party activists back home they stood on principle when others sold out their heritage for a mess of pottage (among Republicans, weak-assed spending caps; among Democrats, a release of the debt-limit hostage). And the unlucky members asked to support the deal as a matter of party discipline will be nervously looking over their shoulders at potential primary challengers ready to blast them for having no spine.

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House Griping on Debt-Limit Deal Shows Bipartisanship Lives