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House Democrats Unveil "Secret" Debt-Ceiling Plan

With the battle over the debt ceiling heating up, The New York Times had a big scoop yesterday, about House Democrats' "secret plan" to resolve the standoff. Quite a few outlets picked up the story and ran with it. So, what's the plan? Well, here are the first three paragraphs of the Times' story:

The only clue to the gambit was in the title of the otherwise obscure hodgepodge of a bill: "The Breaking the Gridlock Act."

But the 45-page legislation, introduced without fanfare in January by a little-known Democrat, Representative Mark DeSaulnier of California, is part of a confidential, previously unreported, strategy Democrats have been plotting for months to quietly smooth the way for action by Congress to avert a devastating federal default if debt ceiling talks remain deadlocked.

With a possible default now projected as soon as June 1, Democrats on Tuesday began taking steps to deploy the secret weapon they have been holding in reserve. They started the process of trying to force a debt-limit increase bill to the floor through a so-called discharge petition that could bypass Republican leaders who have refused to raise the ceiling unless President Biden agrees to spending cuts and policy changes.

This reads a bit like an Agatha Christie novel. It's very cloak-and-dagger.

So the "secret plan," then, is to find five House Republicans who are willing to defy Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and sign off on a discharge petition. Seems like we've read about that option before the Times broke the story. Hmmmm... where was that? Ah yes, it was in the item we wrote yesterday about the debt ceiling. As a reminder, here is the final paragraph of that item:

However, our guess is that the more plausible way forward looks like this: The Senate (with some Republican votes) passes a clean debt-ceiling bill. Then, House Democrats get a handful of those Republicans in districts that Biden won to agree to it. If the House Democrats plus a handful of Republicans form a majority, they can file a discharge petition and bring the bill to the floor and pass it, even over McCarthy's objections. And while the Speaker would undoubtedly hoot and holler about the whole thing, to anyone who would listen, he would likely be privately relieved, since this would solve his headache without his having to take personal responsibility. In any case, the eyes of the world are now on the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Yeah, we added the bit about the Senate making the first move, but the substance is the same.

Actually, if you are a faithful reader you might have read about the discharge petition here first since we ran the story on April 10.

The point here is not to underscore our brilliant insight, because it really wasn't brilliant at all. Nor do we have inside sources in the House, or at the Times. We wrote that because if you've got a president who won't budge and a Speaker who won't budge, there's only one of those where an end-run around them is possible. That would be the Speaker, and the only way to do an end-run around them is a discharge petition.

This is so obvious that we don't really get why House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) & Co. were keeping the scheme under lock and key, like it's the nuclear launch codes. And we don't get why the Times behaved like it had a big scoop, and other media outlets reported it thusly. In any event, we now have confirmation that if Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy are unable to have a meeting of the minds, then the fate of the U.S. and world economies may well be in the hands of five as-yet-unknown House Republicans. (Z)

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