Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Progress in Debt Ceiling Talks?

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) does not appear to be particularly interested, for lack of a better word, in addressing the looming debt ceiling problem. He talked to CNN yesterday, and did some of that buck-passing that he does oh-so-well: "It doesn't seem to me yet [that the Democrats] want a deal, it just seems like they want to look like they are in a meeting but they aren't talking anything serious. Seems like they want a default more than a deal."

We are not in Washington, and we are certainly not in McCarthy's office in the Capitol. So, if he says "The Democrats aren't really negotiating yet," that could possibly be true. But the moment he moves on to "seems like they want a default more than a deal," that is when you know he's full of crap. The Democrats do not want a default, any more than (most) Republicans want a default. For McCarthy to say otherwise is a baldfaced lie, and throws everything else he says into question. Not that he has been much of a truth-teller in the past.

In truth, the Democrats—who seem always to be the ones who have to behave like grown-ups in these situations—have taken some meaningful steps towards trying to reach a meeting of the minds. There have been regular meetings at the White House. Joe Biden has tapped two top aides to be his full-time point people in negotiations, while also shortening the itinerary for his upcoming trip to Asia and the Pacific, so he can be certain to be in Washington at crunch time. Perhaps most important, the White House has tipped its hand, and is framing any agreement here as being about "the budget" and not "the debt ceiling." In other words, Biden & Co. are in a position to make some concessions to McCarthy & Co. without establishing a clear precedent that the debt ceiling can be wielded annually as a weapon by House Republicans.

As to McCarthy, his contribution has been to show up to the meetings, chat with the president, complain to CNN, and... that's pretty much it. In particular, he's not moving off his position that certain benefits (i.e., Medicaid) must be tied to work requirements. This is a demand that comes from the far-right elements in McCarthy's conference, and it's also a deal-breaker for many (or, very possibly, most) Democrats. If McCarthy is not willing to yield on any point, then this isn't a negotiation, it's a hostage situation. That said, he may not be able to afford to yield, since his conference might toss him out on his ear if he does. Point is, he's the linchpin here, and the ball is in his court.

Recognizing this reality, a group of centrist Democrats in the House have been quietly assuring some of their more moderate Republican colleagues that if McCarthy reaches a reasonable compromise, and his right flank revolts, they (the centrist Democrats) will back him and will not vote to get rid of him. The Speaker wasn't willing to reach across the aisle in this way to avoid the week's worth of humiliating speakership elections, so it's hard to imagine he'd be willing to do so now. On the other hand, it may be the only way out of the hole he's dug for himself. If McCarthy does indeed tell the Freedom Caucusers to piss off, and starts thinking of his conference as the 180 or so sane Republicans and the 40 or so most centrist Democrats, then that would be a fundamental shift of power in the House, indeed. (Z)

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