Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Democrats Are Putting McCarthy in a Box on the Debt Issue

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) may not yet regret his decision to pursue the speakership at all costs, but that day is probably not far off. His first hurdle is dealing with the debt limit and that problem is already front and center. Some House Republicans are calling for big cuts in Social Security and Medicare as the price for not plunging the country and the world into a deep depression. Even Donald Trump says cutting those programs would be a big mistake, but the MAGA 20 want them cut.

The Democrats' approach so far is to refuse to negotiate with McCarthy. Instead, they have called on him to come up with a plan that his whole caucus stands behind. Good luck with that. The optics of McCarthy fighting with his caucus to come up with a position that 218 of the 222 members support could be quite spectacular. Democrats are quite content for the moment to sit back and watch McCarthy sweat.

Many of the Democrats remember the 2011 months-long stalemate over the debt limit. They also know that then-Speaker John Boehner had 257 members in his caucus and got some of the credit for the massively successful 2010 election in which the Republicans picked up 63 House seats. And still he had a big problem.

McCarthy also knows that 18 of his members are in districts that Joe Biden won in 2020 and the Democrats need only pick off five of them to pass a clean bill to increase the debt limit with nothing else in it. But if McCarthy quietly gives the five most vulnerable members permission to vote for a clean bill, within an hour of the vote, there is likely to be a motion to vacate the chair.

The Democrats aren't the only ones who have seen this movie before. Political pundit Charlie Cook watched the show last time as well and thinks there are some big differences between now and the 2011 stand-off, as follows:

So all in all, McCarthy has a real problem on his hands. He surely knows that if the House Republicans force a default and the Dow Jones index drops 2,000 points within an hour, followed by a deep depression with millions of jobs lost, the Democrats are going to make their entire 2024 campaign about "The Republicans have lost their minds." Actually, the Democrats are going to do that anyhow, but this would make it way easier to sell.

For completeness sake, we should note that the Democrats aren't out of the woods yet either. Joe Manchin yesterday said that the Democrats should negotiate with the Republicans on the debt limit. What will happen if they don't? Remember, the bill has to pass both chambers. But now the Democrats have 51 seats in the Senate, so they can afford to lose one vote. Calling Kyrsten Sinema. Will she vote against the Democrats after Ruben Gallego announces his Senate run? His team has probably already produced an ad attacking her for it. If she supports Biden, that ad will never run, but if she votes with the Republicans, every person in Arizona will see it. (V)

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