McCarthy got a debt ceiling win. He won't be able to savor it.
"The razor-thin GOP majority managed to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling — but it's just he opening salvo in negotiations with Democrats.
House Republicans on Wednesday afternoon were asked to come together and pass the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023. Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has spent months crafting the 320-page bill, meant to serve as the opening bid in the GOP’s negotiation with President Joe Biden over raising the debt ceiling.
The bill passed, with all but four members of the Republican caucus giving McCarthy a much-needed win. He won’t have much time to savor it. In cobbling together this short-term victory, McCarthy has spent much of the capital he’d need to solve this Republican-created crisis in a way that lets him remain as speaker.
After a bruising fight to win the speaker’s gavel in January, McCarthy has opted to avoid controversy in the ranks, focusing on passing Republican-favored messaging bills that have no chance of becoming law. At the same time, his leadership team has struggled in the background to find a position on the debt ceiling that would satisfy the various factions within the caucus. Complicating matters has been the fact that 16 Republicans had never voted to raise the debt ceiling, per Axios, making their approval less than guaranteed.
When McCarthy finally introduced the bill last week, it wasn’t clear that it would have enough support to get over the line. That’s despite the massive cuts to spending it included, among them repealing a number of climate-related provisions and funding for the IRS in the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act. House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., told Politico this week the bill was “closed — it’s not getting changed.” The choice before rank-and-file members would be to either stand with the draft as written or “give Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer a blank check, with no fiscal reforms whatsoever,” he insisted.
That bravado faltered Tuesday when it became clear that there were still more than enough holdouts to tank the bill. Among them were members of the Iowa delegation and others from the Corn Belt who were upset that ethanol tax credits that Democrats passed last year would be on the chopping block. Those credits were saved in the version of the bill that was passed out of the Rules Committee on Wednesday morning, which also sped the implementation of work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries.
McCarthy is poised to fight this battle with one hand tied behind his back.
Even then it wasn’t a sure thing the bill would pass until the moment the vote count read 216-215. And as House Democrats hammered home all afternoon, the “Dead on Arrival” bill, as they named it, has no chance of passing the Senate. Biden and his fellow Democrats have insisted that they’re more than happy to debate the cuts Republicans want — but as part of the annual spending process, not in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
That means that while McCarthy has to feel good after the drama leading up to this moment, the problem is actually far from being solved. A failed vote Wednesday would have sent him back to the drawing board, giving the Democrats a stronger hand to push for a clean debt limit increase. But if anything, the more dangerous phase for him is between now and when the crisis comes to a head, most likely this summer.
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Yes, the GOP has managed to come together to approve a starting point for talks with Biden. There’s far less chance that the party’s far-right bloc finds much to love in whatever deal gets struck in the coming weeks. For example, Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., who begrudgingly voted in favor of the bill, has said he wouldn’t support any version that doesn’t offer up at least as many cuts as passed Wednesday. And there’s no world in which Democrats agree to support the exact bill the GOP will now send off to die in the Senate.
That leaves McCarthy poised to fight this battle with one hand tied behind his back. Yes, he now has something concrete to bring to the negotiating table with the White House. But as part of the deal he made to become speaker, it takes only one disgruntled member of his caucus to file a discharge petition, forcing a vote that could remove him from power. As a result, the country has taken one small step forward toward not defaulting on its debts — but two steps closer to a potential mutiny against McCarthy."
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