McCarthy may have peaked too soon
The speaker’s former critics are loving him now but they’ve also hamstrung his ability to make a fair deal with President Biden to avoid a default on the nation’s debt.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is having a moment.
Last week, he successfully persuaded Joe Biden to nudge congressional Democrats from the negotiating table so his team and the president’s people could discuss the terms of a deal that would disinvest billions of federal dollars from domestic programs and raise the debt limit before the US achieves broke boi status in eight days.
The speaker is the center of multiple gaggles per day where he spouts talking points that my colleagues in the Capitol Hill press corps tweet verbatim and often without context.
Several of the very members that made McCarthy sweat through 15 ballots to secure the speaker’s gavel are now some of his strongest supporters.
It’s giving paper tiger though.
“He’s got no room to negotiate and he’s negotiating with a gun to his back that’s held by his conference,” a former House Democratic aide said to Supercreator. “And anything he does in terms of what they view as surrendering is going to be problematic for him and keeping the speakership.”
Although McCarthy has managed to successfully shepherd through a series of anti-trans, anti-immigration, and anti-environmental messaging bills mostly along party lines, he doesn’t have the votes to carry any deal he reaches with the president without the support of House and Senate Democrats.
“A bipartisan deal is the only way out, which means some Democratic priorities will need to be a part of any resolution,” House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters on Tuesday.
And while Biden has his own political minefield to navigate as I reported in Tuesday’s newsletter, congressional Democrats have expressed an openness to discuss funding priorities during the normal budget and appropriations process. House Republicans have robbed their leader of this wiggle room to the nation’s detriment.
What makes matters worse for the speaker is that many of these members rarely vote to approve funding bills and are unlikely to vote for a final agreement in this case if one is reached anyway. It’s improbable that McCarthy will be able to agree to a compromise that keeps him in the good graces of the far-right flank of his conference.
Where the talks stand: Funding levels and caps remain the main pain point in the discussions between Team McCarthy and the White House.
There’s also still an intense push from House Republicans to impose stricter work requirements on SNAP benefits that are reportedly harsher than the ones passed in their proposal last month or what former President Donald Trump tried to pass when he was in office.
The White House has proposed a freeze at current funding levels unadjusted to inflation for next year, but McCarthy doesn’t view this offer as a cut.
Timing update: If a deal is reached, Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee and one of McCarthy’s top negotiators, told reporters on Tuesday that it would take at least 24 to 48 hours to draft legislative text.
House Republican Leadership then will give members 72 hours to read the bill before it’s brought to the floor. Depending on what’s in — or left out of — the deal, leaders may need to whip enough votes to pass it.
The Senate will need several days to consider although they could bypass some of the procedural steps to speed up the process. But that’s not a given: Senators from both parties have said there’s no guarantee that they’ll pass whatever the House sends over and could grind the bill to a halt if they wanted to.
This will all become clearer once we know there’s a deal to be had.
Discharge petition check-in: All but two House Democrats have signed the discharge petition that would enable members to raise the debt limit by a simple majority without any of the proposed Republican funding cuts attached, Nicholas Wu at Politico reports.
But no House Republicans have indicated an interest or intention to sign on. And given the time crunch Congress is in, what was already an ambitious gambit feels even more unlikelier at this point.
Still, House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar shared his pitch to his colleagues on the other side of the aisle in case any of them suddenly find religion.
“Our position to Republicans is let’s avoid this catastrophic default. If you’re serious about avoiding default, come talk with us,” he told reporters. “We have said that this is a break-glass provision. We are happy to engage with them and to talk with them about measures that will prevent us from a catastrophic default, that would hurt the economy, and is Republican-led.”
The permanence of default: The frustration among House Democrats is palpable due in large part to what they see as House Republicans downplaying the impact of a default on your well-being and the US’s global standing.
“I just want to add why this situation is different than other budget negotiations. Because a default is permanent. We can’t reverse it,” Ted Lieu, vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said. “ Once it happens, companies and businesses and banks and other countries would know we defaulted once on our debt. And that is going to have permanent ramifications for the American people and their children and their grandchildren.”
House conservatives question X date: On top of all this, House Republicans are now openly disputing if the June 1 date is actually a hard deadline.
Some far-right members argue it’s a political ploy by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to divide Republicans and force them to withdraw some of their demands in order to reach a deal in time.
“If Janet Yellen can really prove that the receipts and the deposits create this default on June 1, she should come to Congress and prove that,” Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida reportedly said.
McHenry told reporters he believed the accuracy of Yellen’s deadline.
“I followed her service in government,” McHenry said. “She has the most varied economic experience of any living American.”
A spokesperson for the Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment.
For more: “As funds run short, Treasury asks agencies if payments can be made later” by Jeff Stein, Rachel Seigel, and Tony Romm at WaPo
Mellow McConnell: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, usually a central figure in debt limit debates, has deferred to Speaker McCarthy this time around.
The way that McConnell, the longest-serving Senate party leader in US history, sees it is that he’ll be able to deliver however many Republican votes any bill that clears the House will need to pass the Senate.
And despite rising tensions as the country approaches the X date, he’s maintained a calm demeanor, which was on display on Tuesday when he was asked during a stop in Kentucky by a local news station if the US will default on its debt.
“Look, I think everybody needs to relax. The last 10 times we raised the debt ceiling, there were things attached to it. This is not that unusual. It is almost entirely required when you have divided government,” he said. “Regardless of what may be said about the talks on a day-to-day basis, the president and the speaker will reach an agreement. It will ultimately pass on a bipartisan vote in both the House and the Senate.”
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IN THE KNOW
House passes trucking bill, Biden promises veto: The House on Tuesday passed a resolution 221-203 that would overturn an Environmental Protection Agency rule to reduce harmful air pollution from large trucks and buses beginning in the 2027 model year.
House Republicans argue the rule would worsen inflation and weaken the supply chain by significantly increasing trucking costs and destroying jobs and that it’s the latest example of Democrats prioritizing progressive climate policies above hardworking Americans.
On the other hand, House Democrats point out that the rule will cut nitrogen oxides that contribute most to the formation of smog nearly in half by 2045, which would improve air quality for millions of Americans. They add that it survived the judicial review period without any lawsuits filed against it. They add the was created with the input of manufacturers.
The Senate passed the bill late last month in a 50-49 vote with all Democrats except Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia voting against it. The White House said President Biden will veto the measure.
Escobar, Salazar take another crack at immigration reform: Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar and Republican Rep. María Elvira Salazar of Florida introduced a bipartisan immigration bill that would address the challenges that have dogged lawmakers for decades in their pursuit of comprehensive reform.
“This is a historical moment,” Salazar said during a press conference. “Two members, one D and one R, have decided to work on one of the most divisive topics in this country: Immigration.”
The Dignity Act, which Escobar and Salazar say has been six months in the making, would open additional pathways to citizenship and grant legal status to undocumented immigrants already living in the US with the possibility of earning citizenship.
It also establishes new pathways for asylum seekers and creates new regional processing centers. New legal pathways would also be available for economic migrants and unaccompanied minors under the legislation.
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware will introduce a companion bill in the Senate.
The Dignity Act comes after Escobar and Salazar reintroduced the American Families United Act in March, which would empower the Attorney General and the Department of Homeland Security with the discretion to allow certain undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States instead of being separated from loved ones.
Earlier this month, House Republicans passed a border security bill along party lines on the day Title 42 ended.
House Democrats, who unanimously opposed the bill, say it reinstates some of Trump’s most harmful anti-immigration policies that focus too much on enforcement and not enough on expanding pathways to citizenship. They reintroduced their alternative proposal, the US Citizenship Act, on the same day.
Dems pitch Social Security expansion: A group of House Democrats on Tuesday introduced legislation that would protect and enhance Social Security as the program faces insolvency within the next decade.
“Our bill ensures that no senior can retire into poverty,” Rep. John Larson of Connecticut said during a press conference. “As we speak, Republicans are still threatening to hold the full faith and credit of the United States government hostage in return for cuts to Social Security and Medicare and other essential programs. Our bill is meant to address these concerns.
Republicans argue that their budget proposal excludes cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
The bill — entitled Social Security 2100 — increased and expands benefits, including:
An increase in benefits for all beneficiaries for the first time in more than five decades.
Improved benefits for widows and widowers from two-income households.
The restoration of student benefits up to age 26 for the dependents children of disabled, deceased, or retired workers
The end of the five-month waiting period to receive disability benefits.
The provision of caregiver credits for people who take time out of the workforce to care for children or other dependents.
The legislation is paid for by taxing millionaires and billionaires on earnings above $400,000 and closing the FICA tax loophole for high-income earners who currently receive a lower rate on investment income.
The bill will likely languish in the House. But it enables Democrats to position themselves as the party that wants to strengthen the program versus Republicans who they say want to end Social Security as it currently exists.
Ossoff, Williams call on FAA to protect young travelers: Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff and Rep. Nikema Williams of Georgia on Tuesday introduced a bill that would require the Federal Aviation Administration to research how to improve child safety at US airports for the nearly seven million kids who travel alone on domestic flights each year.
“Our Kids Fly Safe Act will help give parents peace of mind that their children are safe and secure at our nation’s airports and on-board commercial airliners,” Ossoff said.
Williams added that lawmakers have to be intentional when considering the needs of young fliers because safety isn’t one size fits all.
“The Kids Fly Safe Act will be the first comprehensive study of child safety in the domestic aviation industry so we can make flying safer for everyone — no matter their age.
Air travel has been a focus for the Biden administration as well. Earlier this month, the Transportation Department announced a proposed rule earlier this month that would require airlines to compensate stranded passengers and cover certain expenses for amenities such as meals, hotels, and rebooking.
The department also expanded its Airline Customer Service Dashboard to highlight which airlines currently offer cash compensation, provide travel credits or vouchers, or award frequent flyer miles when they cause flight delays or cancelations.
42.3 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend, according to the travel forecast AAA released earlier this month. This would make the unofficial start of the summer travel season busier than it was in 2019 pre-pandemic.
WH announces new AI efforts: The White House on Tuesday announced new steps to regulate artificial intelligence as the technology’s role in our work lives accelerates.
The efforts are focused on three areas of responsible AI — research, development, and deployment — that protect individuals’ rights and safety and seizes the opportunities the technology enables. The announcement included:
The release of an updated roadmap that outlines key priorities and goals for federal investments in AI research and development.
A request for public input on national priorities to support the administration’s efforts to manage AI risks and harness the technology’s opportunities.
A new report on the risks and opportunities related to AI in teaching and learning.
The White House hosted a listening session with workers to hear personal experiences on how their employers are using AI in call centers, trucking, warehousing, health care, and gig work.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer last week held a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators to discuss the fundamentals of comprehensive AI legislation.
“Our group agreed that because AI technology is developing so quickly, Congress has to move fast,” Schumer said after the meeting.
The White House announcement and listening session follow a meeting Vice President Kamala Harris and administration officials convened earlier this month with CEOs of four top AI developers. President Biden made a surprise drop-by to remind the executives of their responsibility to make sure their products are safe and secure before they’re released to the public.
But AI is currently unregulated and private companies are betting big that the technology is their next major breakthrough. The concern among creators, experts, and advocates is that the government is too slow-moving of an institution to keep pace. A spokesperson for the White House did not respond to a request for comment on if the administration shared this concern.
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All times Eastern
President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 10 a.m. with Vice President Kamala Harris before marking one year since the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas at 3:30 p.m. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will attend.
The House is in at 10 a.m. with first and last votes expected at 4:30 p.m. to overturn President Biden’s student loan debt relief program, advance a bill to address the fentanyl crisis, and override a veto of a rule that paused for two years tariffs on imported solar panels.
The Senate is out.
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