Not everyone is happy with the debt-ceiling bill, to say the least. However, Joe Biden and his team managed to accomplish the two things necessary to consummating a deal: (1) allow Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and the members of his conference to save face, while (2) actually giving up relatively little. And so, the bill passed the House yesterday, and by a more comfortable margin than expected.
The first step to passing the bill was a procedural vote to take up the bill. That passed, albeit with many defections from both sides, 241-187. The vote to begin debate is normally a formality, but opponents of the bill were doing absolutely everything possible to kill it, while Democrats were additionally working to highlight dysfunction in the Republican conference. In the end, only 29 Republicans voted "nay" on beginning debate while 52 Democrats voted "yea."
The next step was the debate on the bill itself, which was fairly anticlimactic. Everyone in the room knew, by that point, that the bill was surely going to pass. So, the "debate" was really just an opportunity for some posturing, and for some members to get sound bites (and video bites) to post to their websites for the folks back home. When it was time to vote, the Democrats initially held back, so that Republicans would be compelled to commit to supporting the bill. Once most Republicans had cast their votes, the Democrats sprang into action. When the dust had settled, 165 Democrats and 149 Republicans voted yea (against 46 and 71 nays, respectively). The nays are listed here, for any reader who is interested. It's largely who you would expect, namely the Freedom Caucusers and much of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Among the (slight) surprises are the nay from Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who is progressive but is also usually a good soldier, and the yea from Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who is a Freedom Caucuser, but has somehow become president of the Kevin McCarthy Fan Club.
Consistent with the "save face for McCarthy" side of things, the Speaker did some crowing about his success, declaring: "I have been thinking about this day since before my vote for speaker because I knew the debt ceiling was coming. I wanted to make history." And some in the media have embraced that perspective. The Hill's headline, for example, was "House passes debt ceiling bill in big win for McCarthy." Reuters went with "McCarthy's moment: Debt ceiling win secures Republican US House speaker's standing." Or Newsweek, which had "The Winner of the Debt Ceiling Deal Is Undoubtedly Kevin McCarthy." You get the picture.
We would agree that it's a victory for McCarthy in the sense that the Speaker got painted into a corner, primarily by the right-wing elements in his conference, and then somehow managed to escape. But if we talk about the actual effects of the bill, well, it is clear that Joe Biden, who first arrived in the Senate when McCarthy was 8 years old, ran circles around the Speaker. On Monday, we ran a list of the key aspects of the deal. Let's look at that list again, this time with comments added, now that details are more clear:
It seems pretty clear to us the Speaker got rolled here. That is presumably why more Democrats voted for the bill than did Republicans, despite the fact that it was the work of a Republican speaker. And we're not the only ones who think this way. For example, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who voted against the bill, told reporters:
There were more votes from Democrats than there were Republicans and I think, the far left know, the progressives know how good of a deal they got tonight. This was not a compromise. Republicans got very little. We're adding $4 trillion of debt over the next two years, there's no cap on the debt limit itself, on the debt ceiling, and you know, we're expanding and growing government welfare. That's what happened tonight.
Note that Mace is not a Freedom Caucuser, so this isn't just sour grapes.
Next, the bill heads to the Senate, where there is some grumbling from Senate Democrats, while some of the usual suspects on the Republican side (ahem, Rand Paul, R-KY) have made clear they will insist on time-wasting show votes, so as to make some valuable point that will soon be forgotten. The ostensible drop-dead day is Monday, and the senators don't love to give up their weekends, so we suspect there will be tolerance in that chamber for roughly 36 hours of nonsense before the bill is passed sometime tomorrow afternoon or evening.
As to the House, it will be very interesting to see what happens next. Rightist Republicans got almost nothing they wanted. The hostage is not going to be shot and they got table scraps in return for not shooting it. That certainly is not what they had in mind when the process started. They might just take revenge on McCarthy by introducing a motion to vacate the chair. The only real problem with that is that they don't have a plausible alternative who can get 218 votes in the House. Also, as we've noted, it's entirely possible there is a deal in place to protect McCarthy with Democratic votes. On the whole, the blue team would like to see McCarthy gone and would like there to be as much chaos as is possible on the other side of the aisle. But if Biden had to promise that the Speaker would keep his job as part of the deal that was cut, it's plausible that enough Democrats would sign up to provide that "grease."
It's also possible that McCarthy will take from this a lesson that bipartisan dealmaking is a heck of a lot easier than "keep the crazies happy" dealmaking, especially since the Senate and White House are controlled by the members of the other party, and not the crazy elements of McCarthy's party. If this does cause the Speaker to rethink his overall legislative strategy, then this experience might end up as a much bigger win for him than it is as the moment.
One other bit of news that is not directly related to the debt-ceiling bill, at least officially, and yet is almost certainly directly related to the debt-ceiling bill. Tucker Carlson managed to get nothing out of the 1/6 footage, and is now out of a job. Yesterday, McCarthy opened up the footage to three more pro-Trump pundits—the kooky Julie Kelly, the even kookier John Solomon, and a third person whose identity is not yet known, but who is likely kooky. Do you think it's a coincidence that this decision just happened to be announced by the president of the McCarthy Fan Club, on her Twitter account, at a time when all the attention is on the debt-ceiling bill? Us either. (V & Z)