Kevin McCarthy Agrees To Lift Debt Ceiling In Exchange For Biden Letting Him Paint White House Fence

Good news, everyone! President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached an "agreement in principle" Saturday to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a catastrophic default that would've tanked the global economy. You'd struggle to find McCarthy's principles with a high-powered electron microscope, but the White House seems to think he'll stick to his word.

“No one got everything they want. But that’s the responsibility of governing,” Biden said on Sunday. “It takes the threat of catastrophic default off the table.”

McCarthy actually agreed with these sentiments. He said Sunday morning, "We’re finalizing an agreement with the president that I believe is worthy of the American people. It doesn’t get everything everybody wanted. But that’s, in divided government, that’s where we end up. I think it’s a very positive bill.”


Seriously, McCarthy sounded almost normal when discussing the deal. He even praised Biden’s negotiating team as “very professional, very smart, very tough."


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Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo describes the final deal as “much better” for the White House than he thinks “almost anyone expected. It’s roughly what you would have expected if the two sides had engaged in a normal budget negotiation this fall.”

Elections have consequences, and we knew that when Republicans narrowly won the House, they'd force some of their more unpopular policies on the American public. However, it seems as if this deal is what we’d have gotten if Biden were negotiating with Speaker Liz Cheney (that's in the alternate reality where attempting to overthrow elections would have actual consequences and Kevin McCarthy would no longer serve in Congress). It seems inconceivable that McCarthy and his far-right goofballs would take the US economy hostage and just walk away with egg noodles and ketchup, but that’s what it looks like.

Here’s a big-picture breakdown, courtesy of CNN:

The agreement will suspend the arbitrary, agita-causing debt limit through January 1, 2025. This arguably neutralizes it as an issue during the 2024 elections.

Non-defense spending is capped during fiscal year 2024 and would increase by just one percent in fiscal year 2025, after some adjustments are made to appropriations. The budget caps would end after fiscal 2025.

These adjustments include moving $20 billion in Internal Revenue Service funding — you can relax, tax cheats! — to other non-defense areas and rescinding $30 billion in appropriated but uncommitted COVID-19 relief funds. (The extra IRS funding Joe got in the Inflation Reduction Act was $80 billion, so we guess tax cheats can relax 25 percent.)

Veterans' medical care remains funded.

Unfortunately, work requirements are expanded for certain adults receiving food stamps.

Currently, childless, able-bodied adults ages 18 to 49 are only able to get food stamps for three months out of every three years unless they are employed at least 20 hours a week or meet other criteria. The agreement would increase the upper limit of the mandate to age 55 in phases, according to the bill text.

However, the deal would also expand exemptions for veterans, people who are homeless and former foster youth in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as food stamps are formally known.

And all the changes would end in 2030.

Student loan repayments will resume at the end of the summer, which was happening anyway. This deal doesn't actively screw borrowers, as Republicans might've hoped.

Also, the agreement would maintain Biden’s plan to provide up to $20,000 in debt relief for qualifying borrowers, the source said. The measure is currently before the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on it in coming weeks.

The deal would also continue Biden’s income-driven repayment plan, according to the White House source.

Dok wrote about the income-driven repayment plan here, and you should see if you can get in on that, too.

The deal won't touch the climate and clean energy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, which Republicans had hoped to repeal outright. There is a Joe Manchin-friendly agreement to expedite the creation of a natural gas pipeline in West Virginia, but otherwise, this all backs up Biden's assurance to Democrats that he didn't make any major concessions to secure the deal.

McCarthy immediately started attempting to sell his caucus on the deal, but Republicans aren't interested so much in policy these days as pain. They want a deal they can rub in Democrats' faces. They can't go on Fox News or Newsmax and talk specific policy details. They need footage of Nancy Pelosi pulling out her hair and weeping.

The speaker claimed Sunday that Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries lamented to him that there was “not one thing in the bill for Democrats," but Jeffries was like, “I have no idea what [McCarthy is] talking about." Rep. Dusty Johnson from the Main Street governance group insists that Democrats got hosed.

"That is the amazing part to me,” Johnson said. “There were no wins for Democrats ... there is nothing out of the passage of this bill that will be more liberal or more progressive than it is today. It’s a remarkable conservative accomplishment.”

But the people who made McCarthy grovel for his speaker's gavel aren't celebrating. Republican Rep. Chip Roy from Texas is already a firm no. Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis smeared the deal on Fox News Monday. (Apparently, sabotaging the economy is how you run for president these days.)

So, it's now Republicans who are in disarray: A hardly senile Biden held the line with McCarthy, who is now fully on the hook for getting this deal to Biden's desk and preventing a default. Now, if Republicans tank the bill and trigger a recession, it's all on McCarthy who couldn't herd his feral cats.

Josh Marshall notes, "In negotiating this deal, McCarthy accepted he’d lose the bulk of the House Freedom Caucus. Those votes would need to be made up by Democrats whose support Biden likely assured him of." That was a reasonable guarantee from Biden: The moderate New Democrat Coalition supports the deal and they have about 100 members. The entire Progressive Caucus could withhold their votes and the bill would still pass with just 118 Republicans. The question is how many truly moderate Republicans exist.

McCarthy promised to deliver a “majority of the majority,” per the concessions he made to win the speakership. That’s 111 Republicans, and it's not a stretch to deliver 107 Democrats. However, passing a deal that cuts out the extremes from both parties is probably more centrist than the MAGA caucus will tolerate.

Last night, Chip Roy told CNN's Manu Raju that he had a handshake deal with McCarthy that bills wouldn't come to the floor without support from all nine Republicans on the House Rules committee. McCarthy's people deny this.

Obviously, the important thing is that the country doesn't default on its debts, but it's a tremendous achievement for Biden and Democrats that it's McCarthy who's holding the pulled grenade.

[Washington Post / CNN / Politico]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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