The Many Levels Of McCarthy’s Newest Debt Ceiling Nonsense

UNITED STATES - MARCH 24: Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) broke new ground in shamelessness Tuesday, sending President Joe Biden a letter accusing him of holding an “extreme position” on the debt limit because the President has refused to negotiate spending priorities — which Republicans have not produced — so long as the debt ceiling is being used by right-wing members as a bargaining chip. 

It’s McCarthy, not Biden, who is determined not to let the impending debt limit deadline pass without using it as leverage to get political concessions from the President. The White House has maintained that the time for such negotiations is when Congress has to pass a budget — as it did last year, and will do later this year — not when it must raise the debt ceiling to avoid sending the country into default on its debts. 

In an additional level of unseriousness, McCarthy has still not produced a budget. So he’s scolding Biden for his unwillingness to debate completely unidentified policy planks. 

In a seeming attempt to give himself cover given his party’s struggle to identify budget priorities the whole caucus will support, McCarthy listed out some vague spending policies at the bottom of the letter. They include “reducing excessive non-defense government spending to pre-inflationary levels and limiting out-year growth, similar to what Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has proposed,” and “policies to grow our economy and keep America safe, including measures to lower energy costs, make America energy independent, and secure our border from the flow of deadly fentanyl that is killing 300 Americans per day.”   

It is apparently also Biden’s responsibility to translate what’s essentially a handful of messaging bullet points into fleshed-out policies.

“I have no interest in brinksmanship — only in doing what is best for the American people,” McCarthy intones, adding, in some insult to injury: “But we cannot continue to kick the can down the road and ignore America’s ballooning national debt, all while you continue to spend trillions more, including through unaccountable executive fiat.” 

The “ballooning national debt” seemed to trouble McCarthy far less when he voted for then-President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts. Those tax cuts, in addition to then-President George W. Bush’s, have accounted for “more than 90 percent of the increase in the debt ratio if you exclude the one-time costs for responding to COVID-19 and the Great Recession,” according to a Center for American Progress report released this week.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Treasury Department will run out of “extraordinary measures” to prevent a default sometime between July and September of this year. 

House Republicans have proposed a plan to prioritize making some payments and not others, working under the assumption that they won’t help lift the debt ceiling. But experts have warned TPM that such a scheme is not certain to avert the damage of a full default, and would almost certainly be met with immediate legal challenges.  

Read McCarthy’s letter here:

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