Biden on the debt ceiling hike: My way or the highway

It doesn’t take long for reality to catch up with people who spend their money recklessly. If the situation is not too far gone, it may be simply a question of cutting back temporarily on unnecessary purchases. However, if the overspending has persisted for a long period of time, an individual may be forced by outsiders into concessions they disagree with.

Such is the predicament the White House finds itself in at the moment. The Biden administration’s two and a half year spending spree has driven up the U.S. national debt to a whopping $31.4 trillion dollars. 

The government is rapidly approaching the day when it can no longer pay its bills. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen notified Congress on Monday that if the debt ceiling is not raised or suspended in the meantime, the government could default on its debt as early as June 1. Needless to say, a default by the U.S. government would be a shock to the world economy and must be avoided.

Last week, House Republicans narrowly passed the “Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023” bill. This legislation would raise the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion (or until the end of March 2024), in return for $4.8 trillion in spending cuts over the next ten years. While that may sound unreasonable, it would merely return federal spending to 2022 levels.

Ahead of the bill’s passage, White House spokesperson Robyn Patterson told Fox News: “The Speaker’s Limit Growth Act is an attack on American manufacturing, American law enforcement, and American families all in the name of making it easier for the richest Americans to cheat on their taxes, and paying for even more tax giveaways that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations.”

The White House accused House Republicans of breaking their “Commitment to America” and claimed that Biden was the only one who was “demonstrating an actual commitment” to the American people. 

Biden insists on a “clean” increase in the debt ceiling meaning he wants “no strings attached.” In a recent interview with NPR, White House chief of staff Jeff Zients said the president would like to keep the debt ceiling increase separate from discussions about spending cuts. In other words, just give us the increase and we’ll address spending issues at a later time. Does anyone recall how a similar promise made to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) went down last summer?

Two things are true: The White House can’t be trusted and that’s not the way it works in a divided government. According to Reuters, “Congress has often paired debt-ceiling increases with other budget and spending measures.” Like it or not, with only a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate and Republican control of the House, Biden is not in a position to call all the shots. He must make concessions. While he doesn’t have to give House Speaker Kevin McCarthy everything he is asking for, he must make a meaningful counteroffer.

The Biden administration has been aware of this looming showdown for months. The government hit the $31.4 trillion dollar debt limit on January 19. 

McCarthy last met with Biden on February 1. Following their meeting, the White House issued a statement that said their demand for a “clean” bill was “not negotiable or conditional.” McCarthy told reporters he had rejected Biden’s demand. He said, “That’s not gonna happen. We’re not just gonna keep spending and just raise the limit on our credit card.” 

There have been no further discussions between the two in the past three months. But Yellen’s warning to Congress prompted Biden to arrange a meeting with congressional leaders which is set for next Tuesday. 

At Tuesday’s White House briefing, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stridently  told reporters that Yellen’s “updated projection should be a wake-up call to Congress. It is time for the Speaker and the MAGA Republicans to stop the brinksmanship and act to prevent default.”

“It is Congress’s constitutional obligation to act, not hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage unless we allow them to make cuts to programs hardworking Americans rely upon.

She said the president has been very clear: “This is not an issue that we will negotiate on. The debt limit was increased three times under President Trump. … [T]he only practical path to avoid default is for Congress to suspend the debt limit without conditions.” 

The debt ceiling was indeed lifted three times during the Trump administration. But the Washington Post’s claim that the Democrats “supplied their votes … without issuing demands” is not true.

The Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll details the very significant concessions the Democrats extracted during debt limit negotiations. For example, in July 2019, Carroll notes that Democrats “won $324 billion in new spending and the end of the spending caps in the Budget Control Act. It was a huge victory for Democrats.”

In a divided government, everything is negotiable. And I’m pretty sure that Democrats are very well aware of that. 


A previous version of this article appeared in The Washington Examiner.

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