early and often

Rebel Democrats Risk Empowering GOP Extremists on Debt Limit

“Problem-solver” Josh Gottheimer is a Democrat who must first solve the problem of a House GOP that wants surrender rather than negotiations. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has finally managed to put together with chicken wire and chewing gum a package of conditions for a brief debt-limit increase that’s irresponsibly right-wing enough to get the votes of most of the House Freedom Caucus members. Now, with time running out to avoid a debt default, he and his troops are demanding that President Biden negotiate with them on this poisoned ground, in which revenue measures are off the table permanently and some of the most obnoxious demands are being called nonnegotiable by Freedom Caucus members.

In this desperate gambit to force major concessions from the White House and Senate Democrats, McCarthy is receiving some bipartisan cover from a handful of House Democrats who may not have signed onto his spending and policy demands but are echoing the more immediate and central demand that Biden abandon his “no negotiation with debt-limit terrorists” posture. Axios reports on the rebel activities, deploying the familiar Democrats-in-disarray narrative:

A divide has opened between House and Senate Democrats over whether President Biden should negotiate a debt ceiling compromise with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Axios has learned. …

Nearly a dozen House Democrats have told AxiosPolitico and the Washington Post, or written publicly, that they believe Biden and McCarthy should be in discussions on the debt ceiling.

Most recently, Trump-district Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine), Mary Peltola (D-Alaska) and Marie Pérez (D-Wash.) wrote in a letter: “It is time to end the partisan standoff and brinkmanship before it rattles markets, damages our economy, and hurts the American people.”

More vaguely, the bipartisan Problem-Solvers Caucus (32 House Democrats and 31 House Republicans) have released a “framework” for negotiations on the debt limit that resembles the kick-the-can-down-the-road “solution” that avoided a debt default back in 2011, when Biden was in charge of talks with GOP hostage takers. The 2011 scenario (based on a commission that recommended arbitrary spending caps) is precisely what Biden and most Democrats have vowed not to emulate.

So at this stage of the very dangerous game House Republicans are playing on the debt limit, Democrats echoing McCarthy’s demand for negotiations on his terms are doing him an enormous favor. Everyone knows the Freedom Caucus is holding a gun to the Speaker’s head even as he seeks to place Biden, the Senate, and the U.S. economy in the same miserable hostage position he’s been in ever since he surrendered to his conference’s extremists in order to win his gavel back in January.

It’s understandable that House Democrats in states Trump carried who are now facing another presidential cycle will reflexively call for bipartisanship on this and other major issues. They are, after all, echoing a regular refrain of Biden’s, and it undoubtedly helps them politically to be able to show some independence from the White House and party regulars. But they need to adopt a strategy that doesn’t simply empower conservative extremists by augmenting their calls for Biden to make the first of what would be an endless series of concessions.

It would be particularly constructive if deal-seeking House Democrats demanded that McCarthy explicitly put the entire federal budget on the table — yes, including tax increases — before securing talks with the White House and/or Senate Democrats. If he won’t (and he probably won’t), then it will become clear that McCarthy’s idea of negotiation is simply surrendering. And that’s not bipartisanship. If would-be “problem-solvers” in either party want to float specific compromises that don’t just delay the day of reckoning a bit longer, they can do so, but not by simply promoting the idea of negotiations when the MAGA Republicans demanding them are not acting in good faith.

More on politics

See All
Rebel Democrats Risk Empowering GOP Extremists on Debt Limit