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Joe Biden Needs to Worry About the Debt Ceiling

Joe Biden. Image by Gage Skidmore.
Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden speaking with supporters at a community event at the Best Western Regency Inn in Marshalltown, Iowa.

Congress and the White House are expected later this year to have a showdown over the debt ceiling, but the topic has mostly been out of the news. But this week, President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy swapped words over the topic.

The White House and Republicans in Congress are still at a standstill in their talks over raising the debt limit. And while the topic has mostly been out of the news in recent weeks, Congress having returned this week from recess is likely to cause talks to step up. 

According to The Hill, things are getting tense. The Biden Administration is calling for a “clean” debt ceiling increase, while the House Republicans are pushing for concessions in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling. Specific proposals have been floated, although not as formal offers, and it’s not clear what Republican proposals can get support from the fractured GOP caucus. 

“With Congress returning from a two-week recess, the talks are reaching a crucial stretch in nearing a deal to avoid a default. But so far, each side has taken their respective corners on the matter, with little indication anyone is willing to budge just yet,” the report said. 

It added that McCarthy has complained that the president has not met with him since February 1. 

“Speaker McCarthy is breaking with the bipartisan norm he followed under [former President] Trump by engaging in dangerous economic hostage-taking that threatens hard-working Americans’ jobs and retirement savings,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said this week. “A speech isn’t a plan but it did showcase House Republicans’ priorities.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), meanwhile, said that Biden should negotiate with McCarthy. 

The House Speaker this week traveled to Wall Street, speaking at the New York Stock Exchange and called for spending cuts. 

“In the coming weeks, the House will vote on a bill to lift the debt ceiling into the next year,” McCarthy said at the Stock Exchange, per The Hill. 

The proposal, McCarthy said, will return discretionary spending to 2022 levels, and also “then limit the growth of spending over the next 10 years to 1 percent of annual growth.”

This was in line with reports in recent weeks about what the Republicans will offer in the debt ceiling talks. One such proposal was to add work requirements for eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Food Assistance Program or SNAP. 

However, per Politico, some Republicans are resisting making that part of the offer, indicating that there might not be votes for that. In addition, Democrats in the Senate consider such proposals “dead on arrival,” and some Republicans in the upper chamber express similar sentiments. 

“I mean, Godspeed. Get what you can. We’re going to live in reality over here,” one GOP Senate aide said. 

McCarthy is facing another issue. He made considerable concessions during his fight to become speaker, to stop a faction of “Never Kevin” Republicans to stop blocking his election as speaker. One of those was that any member of the House can make a “motion to vacate” the speakership. Should McCarthy make a deal with Democrats to avert a debt ceiling default that conservatives in the House find inadequate, it might lead to another rebellion against McCarthy that threatens to cost him his speakership. 

The debt ceiling is raised periodically to allow the federal government to continue to borrow money. Usually, this happens without controversy, but there were a series of crises during the Obama Administration when Republicans in Congress demanded concessions in exchange for raising the ceiling. 

Biden, who was vice president during those fights, has sought to avoid a repeat of some of his former boss’ lowest moments, by refusing to be “held hostage.” 

“Since the government spends more than it makes in revenue, it must borrow money to service its debt and pay for spending that Congress has already authorized,” CNN explained this week. “It has no problem getting more credit since the US pays its bills and has always had a stellar credit rating, despite one previous downgrade from the threat of default.”

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Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.