The Countdown to X-Date: Biden and McCarthy Continue Negotiations Over Debt Ceiling
With just over a week until the “X-Date” on which the US government may no longer be able to meet all its financial obligations, negotiations between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy continue over raising the nation's statutory debt ceiling. The stakes are high, with the prospect of economic turmoil drawing nearer. While both parties have made hopeful noises after their meetings, it seems likely that the standoff will continue until the last minute, with both sides holding out for the best deal possible.
Biden's initial messaging on the debt fight evinced eagerness for a debate over entitlement spending, presuming that Republicans would propose cuts to Medicare and Social Security, triggering a public backlash, and in response, the House GOP would back down and consent to a clean debt-ceiling hike. While his presumption that Republicans would propose entitlement reform was not unreasonable given their promises to do so in the lead-up to last year’s midterm elections, there is no indication that the White House's “offensive” proposals have caused McCarthy to moderate his demands.
At the outset of the debt-ceiling fight, Biden insisted that the US would not default on its debt and that he would not negotiate over legislation to prevent such a cataclysm.  The GOP had no right to use the threat of economic sabotage to secure more leverage in fiscal negotiations. However, a crucial segment of the Republican Conference, somewhere between two to three dozen lawmakers, will not support anything less than the Limit, Save, Grow Act that passed the House last month. This stance has put McCarthy in a difficult position, as he needs “a majority of the majority” of his conference to put any bill on the floor, meaning that as many as 100 Democrats would need to sign off on the legislation.
Regardless of their ideological beliefs, Democrats are expressing their frustration with the White House for not communicating effectively, especially when they need to defend their party's president. The president has often emphasized his willingness to compromise and reach an agreement. According to sources, Democrats have expressed concerns both publicly and privately regarding the President's inadequate response to the Republicans' negotiation tactics. The lack of transparency in the process may hinder the Democrats' ability to gather support for a bipartisan deal when it reaches the House floor.
The public is also split on the issue, with recent polling showing that the public would blame Biden and Republicans in equal measure if the country defaults. A majority of Americans also support the idea of spending cuts as part of a compromise deal, a data point that’s bolstered the GOP and deepened Democratic concerns the party has failed to fully explain the stakes.
Yet there is an even darker theory that the GOP has no political incentive to avoid a default, assuming that Biden as the incumbent president will get the blame, and the GOP will benefit in the 2024 elections. To avoid such a scenario, Democrats said they want Biden speaking out more on the debt limit as the negotiations grind on. House Democratic leaders said Wednesday that all 213 members of their Democratic Caucus now have signed a discharge petition to bypass McCarthy and force a vote to raise the debt ceiling, showing a sign of unity.
As the clock ticks down, the pressure is on for both parties to reach a compromise that averts an economic crisis. While there are some signs of optimism, the situation remains volatile, and the outcome is far from certain.
0. “House Speaker Kevin McCarthy News Conference on Debt Limit Talks” C-SPAN , 24 May. 2023, https://www.c-span.org/video/?528310-1/house-speaker-kevin-mccarthy-news-conference-debt-limit-talks
1. “Debt ceiling negotiations: Are Republicans just posturing? Or is a deal really out of reach?” Vox.com, 25 May. 2023, https://www.vox.com/politics/2023/5/25/23736296/debt-ceiling-mccarthy-biden-talks-default
2. “Is Joe Biden Botching the Debt Ceiling Fight?” New York Magazine, 25 May. 2023, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2023/05/is-joe-biden-botching-the-debt-ceiling-fight.html
3. “Kevin McCarthy's Hardest Job Will Be Selling a Debt-Limit Deal to Conservatives” Barron's, 25 May. 2023, https://www.barrons.com/articles/debt-ceiling-mccarthy-congress-compromise-79f609ce
4. “Democrats unanimously back debt ceiling discharge petition” The Hill, 24 May. 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/house/4019483-democrats-unanimously-back-debt-ceiling-discharge-petition/
5. “Democrats to Biden: Get ‘off the bench' in the debt limit fight” POLITICO, 25 May. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/05/25/democrats-to-biden-get-off-the-bench-in-the-debt-limit-fight-00098861
6. “Days before deadline, Congress leaves with no debt limit deal” The Boston Globe, 25 May. 2023, https://www.bostonglobe.com/2023/05/25/nation/just-days-before-possible-default-congress-heads-out-town-empty-handed/
7. “House Dems’ discharge petition clears one hurdle, with more to go” MSNBC, 25 May. 2023, https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/maddowblog/house-dems-discharge-petition-clears-one-hurdle-go-rcna86255