House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) unveiled his long-previewed ransom note to free the debt ceiling hostage Wednesday, a maximal list of far-right proposals that he knows are nonstarters with Democrats.
His aim in cobbling together a 320-page packet of Republicans’ darkest impulses is obvious: He gets to say, and many news outlets will faithfully repeat, that now Republicans’ refusal to help raise or suspend the debt ceiling is President Joe Biden’s fault for not giving them what they want in return. McCarthy has been trying to make this argument without actually naming the concessions he wants from the administration for months, due to his intensely fractured caucus and small margins.
Biden would have to dismantle some of his signature legislation and executive actions, stomach punitive cuts to programs that help low-income people, sign off on a boondoggle for fossil fuel companies and hobble his agencies — but hey, in return, he’d get a debt ceiling lift or suspension for … less than one year from now! And it’s set to expire just as the 2024 presidential campaign is heating up, all the better for Republicans to demand more concessions then.
We now have the document that represents the heart and soul of the House Republican caucus. Here’s what made their fantasy football checklist.
Kicking The Poor In The Shins
This is the overriding theme of the legislation. From food to health care, Republicans are eager to withhold aid — often in ways proven not to work — for Americans who already struggle the most.
They’re mostly going about this by adding work requirements to benefit programs (some of which already have work requirements). Having been strong-armed into taking cuts to Medicare and Social Security off the table, the Republicans focus on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) and Medicaid (government health insurance for low-income and disabled people).
The SNAP proposal would make adults without children work for longer — an earlier version of which the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated would kick 10 million people off the program, or about one-in-four current recipients.
The proposal would also subject Medicaid recipients without young children to rigorous work requirements, despite the fact that most Medicaid recipients already do work. And those who can’t because they’re in school or caring for a relative full time dwarf the small sliver who don’t want to or can’t find work. But weeding out those few comes at the low, low cost of kicking 2.2 million people off the program, largely because of the difficulty in navigating the bureaucracy to prove that they meet the work requirements, and — based on data from Arkansas, which already tried this — it also won’t meaningfully improve employment!
Tempting Biden With Unraveling His Biggest Wins
Nothing is more likely to lure the President to the Republicans’ negotiating table than asking him to undo some of the highest-profile triumphs of his term so far.
That would include ripping up nearly all of the climate proposals that passed (after months and months of dealing with the whims of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)) in the Inflation Reduction Act, which has been touted as the most significant climate achievement in U.S history.
Republicans also dangle the carrot of a) canceling his student loan forgiveness program outright b) ending the freeze on monthly payments and interest c) forbidding future plans for an income-based repayment plan that would cut monthly payments for most and d) imposing a broad blanket ban on any Education Department action that would incur additional cost to the government related to the federal student loan programs. Why let the Supreme Court do your dirty work for you?
Making Sure Wealthy Donors Are Taken Care Of
No Republican proposal would be complete without a light sprinkling of conspiracy theories. Building off their widely shared fabrication that the increased funding to the limping Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will result in armed agents kicking down the doors of middle-class America, they seek to slash funding to the agency.
This would have the dual effect of wiping out the $120 billion in gains a beefed up IRS would bring in over the next decade and making sure that the very wealthy continue to be able to easily evade paying taxes.
Some of the “let’s kill the planet faster” section would also weaken limits on oil and gas drilling.
And they toss in, for good measure, the Reins Act, which would subject nearly every significant agency action to congressional approval before it’s implemented. It’s shorthand for decimating the administrative state, making sure that the agencies charged with protecting the environment, workers, public health and more cease to function. All the better for the richest Americans to appropriate even more wealth, which they can funnel back to their Republican helpmates.
Some Mystery Cuts, As A Treat
Republicans round off their stew of misery with unenumerated spending cuts to the tune of $130 billion for next year alone. The Biden administration has taken it upon itself to guess that those cuts will target “education, veterans medical care, cancer research, meals on wheels, food safety and law enforcement.” But honestly, we’ll probably never find out; it’s much easier to get lawmakers on board with ambiguous pain rather than specific cuts.
And there you have it — the dream Republican proposal. Devoid of any concessions it would have to make to make it palatable to anyone outside of the House caucus — since that’s not what it’s for — it’s simply a checklist of Republican desires, a peek into the soul of the party. And what an illuminating peek it is.