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Dems fill the White House’s debt-limit messaging void
Party leaders spent the afternoon resetting the record on how we got to the brink of economic catastrophe.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
The US government is one week from the day Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says it will run out of money to pay its bills.
And while negotiators for the White House and House Republican leadership made meaningful progress towards a budget deal that House conservatives are demanding before they agree to raise the debt limit, they’re not there yet as the specter of a first-ever default looms over an already-fragile economy.
Here’s the latest:
House Republican Leader Steve Scalise announced Wednesday afternoon that members can go home for their weeklong Memorial Day recess. If an agreement on the budget is reached between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, members will receive 24-hour notice to return to Washington over the weekend or next week. The Senate will be back next week to take up a bill if a deal is reached and passed by the House.
Scalise added House Republican leadership will allow members 72 hours to review legislative text on any new bill related to the debt limit before a vote on final passage. The 72-hour rule was a concession McCarthy made during his speakership bid that leadership ignored when they passed their debt limit and budget proposal last month.
All 213 House Democrats signed the discharge petition, which would enable members to raise the debt limit by a simple majority without any of the Republican-proposed funding cuts attached. It’s a significant demonstration of caucus unity but still an insufficient solution to the task at hand — unless Democrats convince five House Republicans to break ranks with leadership and endure the political fallout that would follow. “It only takes five patriots to join us in the fight for the American people,” Katherine Clark, the number-two House Democrat said on the House floor on Wednesday. “Join us. Sign the petition. Stay here and fight for the American people.”
HOUSE DEMS ESCALATE GOP ATTACKS: Throughout this debate, House Republicans haven’t met an iPhone mic they won’t speak into.
Most of these exchanges have generated little news. But they’ve provided my corporate press colleagues with a drip of the kinds of micro-updates that define modern political reporting as news as long as it happened, regardless of whether the principals have said anything actually worth covering.
This media environment has unquestionably served Republicans, who have exploited the Biden administration’s preference for governing over politicking with an appearance of accessibility that they say befits the urgency of the moment.
And while Democrats say the GOP media strategy is an admission they have to win on style because they lose on substance, they also acknowledge the White House has left a messaging vacuum in recent weeks.
Wednesday afternoon saw a major shift in this dynamic.
Flanked by a dozen-plus of her members, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal called out House GOP negotiators for rejecting $3 trillion in deficit reduction proposals from the White House.
Never mind the savings were from policies Republicans overwhelmingly oppose like closing tax loopholes and ending Big Oil subsidies, but they enabled Jayapal to frame the GOP’s preference for tax cuts for wealthy individuals and big corporations as unreasonable, extreme, and cruel.
Juxtapose this, Jayapal said, with the CPC’s position as a steadfast defender of the working class.
“From day one, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and our members have been the loudest voices defending working families from Republicans’ extreme behavior,” she added. “The CPC publicly called for raising the debt ceiling last fall, and our members were the first to sign the discharge petition. We will continue to call out and reject this reckless hostage-taking from extreme MAGA Republicans.”
FYI: Congressional Democrats were unable to raise the debt limit before Republicans took the House because Senate Republicans and Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona were opposed to doing so along party lines.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries removed all pretenses during a press conference with Clark and House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar.
“Many House Republicans have made their position clear. House Republicans are determined to crash the economy because they believe it will benefit them politically,” he said. “That is the only explanation for their extreme and inherently unreasonable behavior.”
Aguilar expressed vindication after Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz said earlier this week to Semafor’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig that his colleagues were uninterested in negotiating “with our hostage,” after weeks of characterizing the Republicans as hostage-takers of the American economy.
”The American people are the hostages here,” he said. “Schoolteachers, firefighters, our seniors, our veterans, working families across this country who could lose their jobs if we default. That's who Matt Gaetz and Kevin McCarthy are holding hostage. And that's who House Democrats are holding the line for.”
Meanwhile, as members return to their districts later today, Clark wondered how House Republicans will look veterans in the eye this Memorial Day after voting for a plan that would disinvest from the Veterans Affairs Department.
“But I know this: The American people are watching and they know House Republicans are responsible for this manufactured, very dangerous crisis.”
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McCARTHY’S MATH PROBLEM: Democrats have spent the week fielding questions about what provisions they’d be willing to vote for in a hypothetical deal, much to their frustration.
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told reporters that the reason we’re asking is that McCarthy needs their votes and is negotiating with the White House without the majority of his conference in support of a compromise.
The expectation that Jeffries could be expected to deliver 100-plus votes and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer most, if not all, of his 51-seat majority without any yielding from McCarthy is an impossible square to circle for Democrats.
For perspective, a House Democratic aide cracked to Supercreator that House Democrats have more votes for the discharge petition than Speaker McCarthy does to pass whatever deal his negotiators are able to broker with the White House.
“He has a responsibility to concede. So if he wants any Democratic support, he has to come to the table,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And we have seen him over and over again say that he will not negotiate — that they are engaged in hostage-taking, extortion, not conversation. And that is not something we can establish. It is not something we can reinforce in this country.”
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BIDEN’S PUBLIC DEFENDERS: Speaker McCarthy has said on several occasions this week that he didn’t think it would be this difficult to reach an agreement with President Biden and his negotiating team.
Aside from the deep experience he has in these high-stakes legislative bargaining, Biden has also been buoyed by the support of congressional Democrats, which hasn’t gone unnoticed inside the administration.
Jayapal, who is unafraid to knock the White House when she feels it's playing too safe, dodged several opportunities on Wednesday to place blame on the president for the fiscal cliff we’re fast approaching.
“The problem is not the White House. The problem is Kevin Mcarthy and the extreme Republicans,” she said. “They are the ones that are holding this economy hostage, that are putting all these cuts on the American people.”
She also commended the administration for negotiating in good faith to find a way forward.
“But let’s be clear about where the blame really needs to be focused and it’s on the fact that we have a Republican Party today that is trying to use this moment and is willing to crash the economy instead of doing their constitutional obligation.”
Jeffries told reporters that Republicans are uninterested in finding common ground because they’ve rejected every reasonable proposal that Biden and his team have put on the table.
“I have full confidence in the goodness of President Biden, who wants to find the resolution that protects everyday Americans and is engaging in good faith discussions to try to arrive at that conclusion,” he said.
This doesn’t mean President Biden has been a perfect wheeler-dealer. He’s flip-flopped on policy positions, voided his clean-debt-limit-only red line, and taken heat for not engaging McCarthy sooner. And much of the support from House progressives is due to Biden’s unwillingness up to now to accept harsher work requirements on SNAP and Medicaid. But there’s no denying the solidarity has been a net positive for the president.
For more: “The two Bidens are fighting each other over the debt ceiling” by Gabriel Debenedetti at Intelligencer
HOUSE GOP OVERTURNS BIDEN’S STUDENT LOAN PLAN: House Republicans voted 218-203 on a disapproval resolution that would repeal President Biden’s student loan debt relief program.
Congressional Republicans oppose the program because they say it forces taxpayers who never took out federal loans — or already paid theirs off — to pay off the debt held by borrowers who did. They also say it’s a massive overreach of executive power.
Democrats argue the GOP’s opposition is because the program targets relief to Black, brown and low-income borrowers. They also note that the plan’s estimated price tag — including the cost of the repayment pause and the administration’s income-driven repayment plan — is less than the 2017 Trump tax cuts that benefited the wealthy and Republicans are hoping to extend if the debt limit is raised.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule next month on whether the program is constitutional. After the court makes its decision, payments are scheduled to resume 60 days later If the legality of the program is unresolved by June 30, payments will resume 60 days after that.
Biden last August announced his plan to cancel up to $10,000 for borrowers or $20,000 for borrowers who were Pell Grant recipients whose income is under $125,000 or couples whose joint income is less than $250,000. The plan also extended the pause for student loan payments, interest accrual, and collection until the end of 2022.
26 million borrowers applied for or were deemed automatically eligible for debt cancelation and 16 million had their applications approved before the program was challenged in court by Republican officials in six states, including Nebraska and Missouri.
The resolution will now receive a vote in the Senate. If it passes, the White House has said the president will veto it.
All times Eastern
President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 10 a.m. and announce the nomination of General Charles Q. Brown, Jr. to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at 1:45 p.m. Vice President Harris, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will attend.
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will speak about workforce training programs at the Reagan Institute Summit on Education in Washington, DC at 12:15 a.m.
The House is in at 9 a.m. with first and last votes scheduled at 9:45 a.m.
The Senate is out.
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