Posted on: May 29, 2023 Posted by: Mitchell Plitnick Comments: 0

The always worthwhile David Dayen has an excellent summary and breakdown of the debt ceiling deal at The American Prospect.

If anyone needed a better demonstration of just how weak and ineffective Joe Biden is, the debt ceiling fiasco has certainly provided it. As Dayen correctly notes, “The second that Joe Biden agreed to negotiate with House Republicans on the debt ceiling, the results were going to be bad.”

Negotiating the debt ceiling should have been a red line, a point which even many Democrats understood, and not only the progressive ones. As soon as that line was crossed, Biden had surrendered. That he did so long before he had to (he never had to, of course) is merely another example of his absent leadership, weak skills, and political cowardice.

The president is now in the process of doing what he does best: lie to his constituents about his awful decisions and try to convince people who work for a living and don’t have the time to gather the information they need to understand his blatant dishonesty for what it is.

“You want to try to make it look like I made some compromise on the debt ceiling — I didn’t. I made a compromise on the budget,” Biden told reporters.

That’s the worst kind of double talk. The debt ceiling was being held hostage by fanatical Republicans who demanded that the budget be slashed or they would not vote to raise the debt ceiling. There was never any notion of a direct compromise on the debt ceiling because it is either raised or it is not, and that question is what was at issue. Biden is bald-faced lying, something he does far more often than most Democrats care to admit.

Biden will argue also that he resisted the most extreme demands by MAGA Republicans, and will point to the discontent among the GOP’s far right over this deal as evidence of that. What he won’t say is that this too was never really at issue; the majority of Republican members backed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, whose goal was always to roll back spending to FY 2022 levels. The particular wording and some mitigating factors will allow McCarthy to say he succeeded while also allowing Biden to claim that he actually held the rollback to a freeze at current levels. Either way, it’s a Biden surrender.

Freezing current levels for two years is actually a spending cut, and not an insignificant one. Inflation means that the same amount of money for a given program in 2023 is worth less in 2024. Dayen estimates that the net loss to most discretionary spending will be around 5%, a number which assumes continued decline of inflation over the next two years, hardly a given.

All of those cuts will affect poor and working class Americans. Military spending, by far the most unnecessary and wasteful part of our budget, will continue to balloon. Meanwhile, the old idea from two years ago about expanding the IRS’ ability to go after the wealthy corporations and richest citizens who cost the US about $1 TRILLION per year in unpaid taxes is being whittled down as part of this deal. The Inflation Reduction Act authorized $80 billion over ten years and the “compromise” will reduce that by about $1.9 billion in the next year, with more attacks on the full amount sure to come as long as Republicans can mount them.

And therein lies the problem. By agreeing to negotiate with Republicans while they held the debt ceiling hostage, Biden opened the door for much wider such moves by the GOP in the future. True, this was not the first time the Republicans tried this, and the terms of Biden’s surrender fell well short of what the MAGA zealots wanted, resulting in their howls of disapproval and betrayal. But when we look past the political theater, what we see is that Biden agreed to make it significantly more difficult for poor people to access the already meager social safety net; to relax already lax standards on pollution and on workers’ rights; and to make it more difficult for renters and people with student debt to find relief. In exchange, he got…nothing. He simply got the Republicans in the House to do their job and raise the debt limit. He blinked, and in so doing not only made the future bleaker for the overwhelming majority of Americans but also sacrificed much potential political gain on the altar of his own conservatism and cowardice.

All of this could have easily been avoided if Democrats had passed legislation to raise the debt ceiling when they controlled both chambers of Congress. The need to do so was obvious as soon as the GOP won the election in November and gained a razor-thin majority in the House (one which they would have likely not gotten but for mainstream Democrats’ obsession with blocking progressive candidates, but I digress), yet they did not act and Biden, knowing full well this was coming, did nothing to press them to act. On the contrary, he expressed his eagerness to work with them. Those words, sadly, are some of the very few true ones he has uttered.

The debt ceiling, Biden will argue, is now removed from the agenda for two years (wording of the agreement suggests as many as six years, but this is as real as the non-guaranteed years of a football player’s contract—which is to say, it’s simply smoke). That’s true, but, again, the real issue is the budget; that’s what the Republicans used to debt limit to target. And that issue is far from settled.

It will come up again in September, when the current fiscal year ends. The same fight will ensue, with Republicans holding the threat of another government shutdown instead of a default on the national debt. And we can absolutely count on Biden to cave in again. His concern will be the same one in September as it was now—how to craft a deal which he can pretend is a good one, not an actually good deal. Biden will do what he has always done, which is to rob from the poorest among us, transfer wealth from working people to the wealthy while saying he’s doing the opposite or whining about why he can’t do better. The result will be more losses for poor and working people and Biden losing even more ground in terms of his 2024 hopes.

Yet no Democrat is going to step up and challenge this man, who is such an awful candidate that it is actually a real possibility that he could lose in 2024 despite Republican perfidy and ineptitude. It need not be this way, but as long as Democrats insist on putting up candidates whose only virtue is that they can clear a bar as low as being better than Republicans, we run that risk. And, worse, even if they win, we end up with tragic outcomes like the one we are now witnessing with Biden’s abject surrender to Kevin McCarthy.