Dems Worry Biden Is Getting Fleeced

Dems Worry Biden Is Getting Fleeced

IMAGO/Henning Scheffen via Reuters Connect
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Thursday, May 18, 2023

Happy Thursday! As of this afternoon, the Senate is officially on recess until after Memorial Day, though with negotiations to raise the debt limit progressing, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned his colleagues to be ready to return on 24 hours’ notice. As those talks continue, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy sounded more bullish about reaching a deal — and Democrats sounded more nervous about just what that deal might look like.

Here's your evening update.

McCarthy Optimistic About a Debt Deal, but Some Dems Worry Biden Will Get Fleeced

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy sounded optimistic Thursday about the odds of reaching an agreement on raising the debt ceiling before the U.S. Treasury runs out of cash in as little as two weeks.

“We’re not there, we haven’t agreed to anything yet,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol. “But I see the path that we can come to an agreement. And I think we have a structure now and everybody’s working hard.”

McCarthy also spoke highly of the negotiators chosen by the White House, including Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young and top adviser Steve Ricchetti. “I just believe where we were a week ago and where we are today is a much better place because we've got the right people in the room discussing it in a very professional manner with all the knowledge and all the background from all the different leaders and what they want,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer struck a positive note, as well. “We’ve made good progress this week, but the work continues,” he said, adding, “No one will get everything they want.”

Although senators left town Thursday for a 12-day break, Schumer said they would be available on 24-hour notice to address any deal that might be struck between McCarthy and the White House. “The negotiations are currently making progress, as Speaker McCarthy has said he expects the House will vote next week if an agreement is reached, and the Senate would begin consideration after that,” he said.

Worries on the left: A growing number of Democrats are expressing concerns that the White House will give too much away in a deal with Republicans. Led by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a group of 11 liberal senators signed a letter urging President Joe Biden to reject any agreement that involves spending cuts or work requirements for social programs, and to ignore the debt limit altogether on constitutional grounds.

The senators — including Sanders and Democrats Tina Smith, Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley, Edward Markey, Mazie Hirono, Peter Welch, Richard Blumenthal, Jack Reed, Sheldon Whitehouse and John Fetterman — accused Republicans of negotiating in bad faith. “Republicans have made it clear that they are prepared to hold our entire economy hostage unless you accede to their demands to reduce the deficit on the backs of working families,” the lawmakers wrote. “That is simply unacceptable.”

Republicans refuse to consider any revenue increases to address the deficit, the senators said, leaving Democrats with a choice between significant spending cuts and the economic catastrophe that would likely result from a default. “Republicans’ unwillingness to consider one penny in new revenue from the wealthy and large corporations, along with their diminishment of the disastrous consequences of default, have made it seemingly impossible to enact a bipartisan budget deal at this time,” they wrote.

As an alternative, the senators called on Biden to take a different approach: “We write to urgently request that you prepare to exercise your authority under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which clearly states: ‘the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”

Progressive Democrats in the House are also pushing back against any potential deal that involves spending cuts. Rep. Jamaal Bowman told CNN’s Manu Raju that he was concerned that the White House is giving too much away in the negotiations with McCarthy. “Yes, I’m concerned about that,” he said. “We shouldn’t be negotiating.” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who leads the Progressive Caucus, struck a similar pose, saying, “We should not reward the hostage takers.”

Grumblings on the right: Liberal Democrats aren’t the only ones worried about the shape of the eventual deal between McCarthy and the White House. The far-right House Freedom Caucus released a statement Thursday expressing support for the bill passed by the House that would cut spending by $4.8 trillion over 10 years in exchange for raising the debt limit by $1.5 trillion — terms that can’t gain any kind of bipartisan support.

“The U.S. House of Representatives has done its job in passing the Limit, Save, Grow Act to provide a mechanism to raise the debt ceiling,” the group said. “This legislation is the official position of the House Freedom Caucus and, by its passage with 217 votes, the entire House Republican Conference.”

The group called on “Speaker McCarthy and Senate Republicans to use every leverage and tool at their disposal to ensure the Limit, Save, Grow Act is signed into law,” adding, “There should be no further discussion until the Senate passes the legislation.”

The bottom line: Negotiators say things are going well, but criticism is growing on both the left and the right, reminding everyone of just how difficult it may be to build enough support to turn a McCarthy-Biden agreement into a catastrophe-avoiding law.

Quote of the Day

“I just always thought this was the stupidest thing we do, and we do a fair number of stupid things.”

The ever-quotable Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, discussing the debt ceiling in a Washington Post article looking at renewed efforts by Schatz and others to abolish the federal borrowing limit. With another high-stakes fight raging over raising the limit, the Post’s Tony Romm writes: “The all-too-familiar battle has inspired some Democrats to push anew for a repeal. Even as they acknowledge they don’t have the votes, they agree it’s time for Congress to learn a lesson that has eluded it for decades.”

Is McCarthy’s Demand for Stiffer Work Requirements a Strategic Ploy?

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has made tougher work requirements on federal benefit programs a “red line” in ongoing negotiations to raise the debt limit. David Dayen of The American Prospect raises the possibility that the issue might be more of a red herring.

In a piece dissecting the close relationship between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Punchbowl News — and the various ways the D.C. tipsheet has carried water for Republicans in the ongoing standoff — Dayen writes:

“I think there’s concern that work requirements become the ‘last man in,’ something introduced late in the talks not as a real issue but to make one side angry, so when they are removed, it feels like a win to that side, and they overlook the other really bad elements of the outcome (like multiyear spending caps). If you read between the lines of Punchbowl’s reporting on work requirements, they’re kind of telegraphing that.
“On May 12, Punchbowl wrote that rescinding COVID aid, spending caps, and permitting reform were the keystones of the deal, with work requirements ‘far less likely to happen.’ On May 16, Punchbowl noted, ‘There will be a lot of attention given to additional work requirements for SNAP and other social welfare programs, but that’s a heavy lift.’ They acknowledged that McCarthy was ‘pushing hard’ for work requirements on May 17, but that there was ‘strong resistance among progressives,’ and that the issue ‘will need to be finessed very delicately in order not to unravel the negotiations.’
“If you read that knowing that this is McCarthy’s house organ, you can see that they’re helping him normalize the idea that an economically ruinous multiyear spending cap is part of a ‘relatively straightforward’ deal, and that work requirements are the last man in. This benefits what McCarthy is trying to accomplish.”

Politico reports that the White House may be willing to tighten work requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, formerly known as welfare, as part of a deal.

Read Dayen’s full piece here.

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