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If McCarthy is worried about babies’ debt burden, he’s doing it wrong

Kevin McCarthy is justifying his debt ceiling crisis by saying he's looking out for babies, but the closer one looks, the worse this pitch becomes.


In the Republicans’ first debt-ceiling crisis, GOP leaders said the only concession they were prepared to make was raising the limit — which they’d have to do anyway — in exchange for a ransom. Twelve years later, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his team are recycling the ridiculous position.

Similarly, in 2011, Republicans justified threatening to crash the economy on purpose by saying they’re looking out for children, who shouldn’t be burdened by a massive national debt. This week, after a White House meeting, McCarthy recycled that line, too:

“Every new child that was born today just got a $94,000 bill — and they’re one day old. I think that’s wrong. I think we’re failing. And you know what, you can blame both sides for this, but that has got to stop, and it’s got to end now.”

Of course, day-old babies didn’t literally receive a bill for $94,000. What the Republican leader pitched was a familiar refrain from deficit hawks: Take the entirety of the national debt, divide it by the population of the United States, and arrive at a per-person figure. The idea is, every American, of every age — whether you’re a senior citizen or were born yesterday — is shouldering this debt “burden.”

There’s no shortage of problems with this argument, as a very good Washington Post analysis explained yesterday. Among the key details Philip Bump raised: “When Donald Trump was president, despite surging deficits, Republicans in Congress were happy to sign off on a suspension of the debt ceiling, despite every baby born in 2019 owing an $83,000 bill to the government.”

Evidently, the House speaker was entirely comfortable with babies getting an $83,000 bill, but we're supposed to believe that a $94,000 bill is a bridge too far.

But it’s also worth pausing to consider the follow-up questions that McCarthy doesn’t appear eager to answer.

As the California Republican sees it, every new child born in the United States is effectively receiving a $94,000 bill. McCarthy thinks that’s “wrong,” and he’s ready to put a stop to this “now.”

But is he really?

For example, Democrats have made the case that rolling back ineffective tax breaks for the wealthy would reduce the deficit and help those innocent babies who shouldn’t have to shoulder an undue debt burden. It’s at this point that Republicans effectively respond, “Whoa, hold on there. We care about babies as much as the next guy, but not if it means asking billionaires to pay an extra dollar in taxes.”

Indeed, we can keep going down the same road. If McCarthy were driven by his deep concerns about helping babies and their debt burdens, he’d be open to possible defense cuts. And rolling back tax cuts. And making sure GOP spending cuts don’t affect education and child care. And closing tax loopholes.

But he’s not.

As Republican leaders try to defend their indefensible extortion scheme, maybe they think we were born yesterday?