When it comes to the Republicans’ debt ceiling crisis, the line from most congressional Democrats and the Biden White House has been simple: There will be no negotiations. Congress has a responsibility to pay the nation’s bills, and Democrats can’t pay a ransom to GOP lawmakers every time Republicans threaten to harm Americans on purpose.
As Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii recently told The Daily Beast, “In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing. You don’t get a cookie.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre added at a briefing two weeks ago, “We will not be doing any negotiation over the debt ceiling. ... There’s going to be no negotiation over it.”
With this in mind, it came as something of a surprise when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy published a tweet on Friday afternoon, suggesting that President Joe Biden had changed his position. The missive read:
“President Biden: I accept your invitation to sit down and discuss a responsible debt ceiling increase to address irresponsible government spending. I look forward to our meeting.”
Yesterday, during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” incoming House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner added that the Democratic president is “opening negotiations with Republicans.”
So, which is it? Has the White House ruled out hostage talks or has Biden invited McCarthy to the White House to discuss how to pay the GOP’s ransom?
Jean-Pierre published a written statement on Friday afternoon that brought some clarity to the matter:
“President Biden looks forward to meeting with Speaker McCarthy to discuss a range of issues, as part of a series of meetings with all new Congressional leaders to start the year. Like the President has said many times, raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiation; it is an obligation of this country and its leaders to avoid economic chaos. Congress has always done it, and the President expects them to do their duty once again. That is not negotiable.”
The president himself said at an event on Friday afternoon that he’ll have “a little discussion“ with the new Republican House speaker about the importance of avoiding default — presumably to tell McCarthy to do his job and stop waiting for a ransom that will not arrive.
In other words, the White House invited McCarthy for a conversation about a variety of things — it’s not uncommon for presidents and House speakers to get together for chats — and McCarthy interpreted that as an invitation for debt ceiling negotiations.
He hasn’t yet fully accepted the idea that Biden won’t reward him for threatening Americans with deliberate harm.
Remember, McCarthy hasn’t even filled out his ransom note, at least not yet. By all appearances, the California Republican — who realizes that putting the GOP’s unpopular demands on paper risks a political backlash — expects to sit down with the president, at which point the speaker will effectively say, “Tell me what you’ll give us to prevent a catastrophe, and I’ll let you know when I’m satisfied.”
No one should feel reassured by the fact that Republicans are pushing us closer to an economic calamity, on purpose, without a coherent strategy in place.