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As dangerous debt ceiling deadline nears, GOP is ‘moving backward’

Republicans said Democrats had to pay a ransom or the GOP would crash the economy. Now, Republicans are adding to their debt ceiling ransom note.


This past Thursday was only four days ago, but when it comes to the budget talks and the debt ceiling, it might as well have been last year. After all, it was on Thursday when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who’s had little positive to say about the process of late, told reporters, “I see the path that we can come to an agreement.” The Republican leader went on to raise the prospect of a handshake agreement by the weekend.

The next morning, Republicans negotiating on McCarthy’s behalf walked away from the negotiating table. They returned hours later, only to depart the White House again late Friday without anything resembling a deal.

On Saturday, the House speaker said the negotiations were “moving backward,” which was accurate, and it’s worth understanding why. Politico published this striking report yesterday:

Congressional Republicans have not only rejected a new White House offer to essentially freeze domestic spending at [fiscal year 2023] levels, they’re now demanding work requirements for SNAP recipients that are more rigid than those they originally proposed. They’re also insisting on adding new immigration provisions from the GOP’s recently passed border bill — which, mind you, Republicans didn’t include in their own debt ceiling bill.

The Washington Post ran a related report that largely mirrored this summary of the policy landscape, though it added an additional detail: While demanding sweeping cuts to domestic spending, GOP officials are also pushing “for higher defense spending.”

Taking note of what was plainly true, PunchBowl News’ Jake Sherman quoted Democratic sources saying that Republicans’ demands “keep going further to the right.”

For his part, McCarthy described all of this as “inaccurate,” though he wouldn’t say, specifically, which part of the reporting was false.

As for why all of this matters, there are a few angles to these developments to keep in mind. The first is that they’re not as surprising as they probably should be: Ten days ago, some of the House Republican Conference’s most far-right members said they wanted to start adding new, reactionary provisions to the party’s debt ceiling ransom note. By all appearances, GOP leaders are following those instructions.

McCarthy argued more than once over the weekend that he believes Democratic leaders are allowing far-left extremists to call the shots. It was one of the more brazen examples of projection I’ve seen in recent memory.

The second part of this that stands out is the extraordinary absurdity of the circumstances. Consider a brief timeline:

  1. After waiting for months, the small Republican majority in the House approved a far-right ransom note, filled with regressive ideas and drastic spending cuts the party knew Democrats would never accept.
  2. Democrats predictably balked, but agreed to work on a compromise.
  3. Republicans, well aware of the fact that they’re going to need Democratic votes to eventually pass a bill, heard the compromise offer and responded by adding even more reactionary provisions to their ransom note, and demanding spending increases for their priorities.
  4. When Democrats predictably balked again, McCarthy said “the socialist wing“ of the Democratic Party is in control.

In other words, the more steps Democrats take in the Republicans’ direction, the more steps Republicans take in the opposite direction. As the prospect of “financial Armageddon“ nears, GOP officials are making a catastrophe more likely, not less.

It’s enough to make one wonder if McCarthy and his members want to impose economic hardship ahead of the 2024 elections.

Finally, there’s the calendar to consider: The debt ceiling “x-date” could come as early as June 1. For those keeping track, that’s next week.

President Joe Biden, who returned from the G-7 summit yesterday, had a meeting with the House speaker over the phone while on Air Force One, and the GOP leader described the discussion as “productive.” The two are scheduled to meet this afternoon.

As Republicans threaten to hurt Americans on purpose unless their growing list of demands are met, it’s probably best to keep expectations low.