Forty-six progressive Democrats shoved their thumbs firmly in the eyes of Joe Biden on Wednesday night as the debt ceiling deal that the president crafted with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy eased to a 314 to 117 passage.
For days, the scuttlebutt around the Capitol centered on whether McCarthy could deliver Republican votes to avoid a default. In the end, he corralled 151 members of the Grand Old Party, with 71 voting no, but how did Biden do?
On a deal that McCarthy critics claimed gave the president everything he wanted, 46 progressive Democrats voted no, which is curious given the claims that the Speaker of the House got completely rolled by the aged Commander-in-Chief.
California Rep. Ro Khanna spoke for the bright blue contingent of Lefties saying, “We should not be negotiating about paying our bills,” which was, of course, Biden’s original position.
“We can’t do that ever again, where we’re holding the entire American economy hostage,” vented Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Greg Cesar, adding, “It’s a ransom deal.”
Left-wing commentator Cenk Uygur poured salt on the president’s wounds Wednesday saying, “Biden is the world’s worst politician. He should have never negotiated with Republicans.”
In the end, this bipartisan bill passed the way bipartisan bills always pass, with the moderate majorities of both parties taking the tie, while those on the extremes refused to play ball. For both McCarthy and Biden, the yesses were enough.
So why did 46 House Democrats and much of the progressive media balk at Biden’s brinkmanship? It’s because despite the hew and cry from the right, McCarthy did exact some meaningful concessions.
Work requirements for welfare were supposed to be a non-starter; in the end Biden caved. The IRS, which of late, seems to spend most of its time harassing conservatives and ignoring alleged tax evasion by Hunter Biden, got a 21-billion-dollar haircut.
The only Democrat who seemed to get anything out of the deal was West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who’s long-sought-after gas pipeline from Virginia to its namesake state was approved. Take that, Green New Dealers.
To be sure, taken as a whole, the deal does little to reverse the 30-plus-billion-dollar debt driven disaster that is the US federal budget, but true fixes were never really on the table in what amounted to a procedural standoff. Real change will require Republicans to win more elections.
But after a week in which some overwrought pundits on both sides laughably thought McCarthy’s speakership was at risk over the deal, it is absolutely telling that so many Democrats flipped Biden the legislative bird.
By Thursday morning, McCarthy was doing a victory lap, his speakership secure. Meanwhile, Biden is bumbling towards renomination with barely 60 percent in the polls among Democrats, as an incumbent.
But progressives in the House on Wednesday were in no mood to give the president’s flailing prospects a boost with a show of unity. Instead, they poured fuel on the fire of the insurgent candidacies of Robert F Kennedy Jr, Marianne Williamson, and who knows who else.
Politics is a game of expectations. For days, it was McCarthy in the hot seat, quietly taking barbs from his own side, tamping down media rumors of his impending demise, but in the end, it is Biden who looks weakened by these high stakes negotiations.
As it turned out, Biden no more whipped any progressive votes than the mounted border agents he lied about whipped migrants; instead, they told him to pound sand.
In addition to the albeit modest budget cuts McCarthy achieved, he also set the fuse of a ticking time bomb for Biden. The next time the debt ceiling will come up for a vote will be in January 2025, in a lame duck session before next year’s presidential winner takes office.
Make no mistake, whoever the GOP nominee is will make the case that, along with McCarthy and a Republican senate, they can achieve the powerful and lasting changes needed to set America’s fiscal course in a healthy direction.
And in the end, that has always been the bottom line. McCarthy, with his slim nine-seat House majority, was never in a position to win massive budget cuts. He was sent to the grocery store with five dollars; you can’t complain when he brings home canned tuna instead of filet mignon.
Now, as always and as it should be, the question lies in the hands of the American people. The presidential election will be decisive, with the only question being what pound of flesh will progressives demand from Biden to regain their capricious support?
Time will tell, but in the end, McCarthy is walking away from this train wreck of a budget in much better shape than Biden, and there is no assurance that progressives are in a mood to patch the wounded president up.