The insane clown car that is Washington, D.C., is in full swing. Usually, the approach of summer in the nation’s capital brings a certain sense of ennui; an end to a “productive” legislative session and the running of the elected representatives back to their home districts to remind their constituents why they’re not little more than receptacles for Special Interests. But the summer of 2023 is, sadly, different.
Oh, yes, the summer of 2023 is apparently the period in America’s rich history when, in the ineffable words of former President Barack Obama’s favorite pastor (or was he?), Rev. Jeremiah Wright, “America’s chickens are comin’ home to roost!”
I’m talking about the impending debt ceiling fight. For years, Congress has imposed a limit of how much money it can spend every fiscal year. Naturally, America’s feckless political class routinely brushes up against the debt ceiling.
Historically, each time America has neared that limit, Congress gets together and votes to raise the debt ceiling higher, thereby allowing for the federal government to spend more tax dollars, to borrow more money, and to print more money to sustain what most believe is our entirely unsustainable way of life.
Raising the debt ceiling has been a matter of pro forma politics. The occasional politician makes an impassioned speech opposing the raising of the debt ceiling but then, the supposed adults in the room get together and hash out their differences.
Alas, there are no longer any adults in the room.
No More Adults in the Room
The recent intraparty Republican fight over Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) ascension as the Speaker of the House was viewed by most observers as a proxy battle for the pending debt ceiling fight. McCarthy, it was assumed, wanted to follow the Washington way, and negotiate a clean raising of the debt ceiling to avoid any financial fallout that would undoubtedly arise should the GOP refuse to raise the ceiling heading into a critical election year.
President Joe Biden, for his part, wants to squeeze the divided and weak Republicans. He knows that they’re not in agreement on whether to raise the debt ceiling. What’s more, the Democrats understand that the American people will instinctively blame the Republicans should the entire economy collapse like the house of cards that it is if the GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling this summer.
With millions of Americans set to be devastated by an economic default, Biden and the Democrats—like spiritual vampires—want to feed off the immiseration of their fellow citizens; gaining votes from the masses of dispossessed Americans who will be mostly blaming the Republicans for their plight in 2024.
Something is changing, though, in the Democrat calculus.
Suddenly, President Biden is reversing course, with just a month before Congress is set to vote on the debt ceiling. Recently, Biden goaded Speaker McCarthy by telling him if he could get baseline legislation passed in the House about what the House GOP parameters were for a debt ceiling vote, then Biden would be willing to meet with the Republicans. Biden did this because he didn’t think that McCarthy could swing such a feat. McCarthy kept his raucous caucus together and got baseline legislation passed.
Of course, people like Sen. James Clyburn (D-SC) have already said that McCarthy’s bill is dead on arrival in the Senate. Clyburn and other senators have intimated that the Senate is going to gather and create its own version of a debt ceiling bill. Washington, it seems, is springing into action. This has boxed Biden in, forcing him to come out in favor of meeting with McCarthy; of being seen to negotiate in good faith.
Democrats and Republicans Want to Go Off the Cliff Together
My friends, this isn’t in good faith, though. The Democrats know the economy is tanking. Most experts believe that we are on the brink of a recession that will bleed into the election. If Biden can convince enough Americans that the economy is in the doldrums because the Republicans forced a debt default, rather than Biden’s abysmal economic policies, then the Democrats might be able to squeak by in 2024.
Biden must be seen as engaging with the Republicans so that he can paint them as the extremists. His team fully understands that McCarthy is hanging by a thread. Representatives like Lauren Boebert of Colorado are going to do to the debt ceiling vote what they did to McCarthy’s speakership vote in January: try to kill it at all costs. Biden wants this to happen.
People are relieved that Washington’s two parties are finally talking to each other. Sadly, it’s with just a few weeks to go before the vote is set to take place. Therefore, it is likely that the meeting between Biden and McCarthy will only exacerbate the existing political divisions and ensure that the economy does go off the proverbial cliff, that America defaults on its debt.
Maybe We Get a Random Act of Responsible Governance?
The only hope at this point is that the two sides blunder their way into a deal. Everyone is so busy scheming how to blame the other side for a potential default, it might just be that McCarthy and Biden figure out a way to raise the debt ceiling as the two men realize that it’ll be far more damaging to their political futures if America careens hard into a debt default as a recession is underway. Stranger things have happened.
Although, I won’t hold my breath.
America is more than likely to go off the fiscal cliff this summer because the Republicans want concessions that the Democrats will never grant. A shattered American economy will become the primary issue of the 2024 Presidential Election. Despite what they may think, though, a damaged economy doesn’t necessarily bode well for the GOP’s political prospects—not if they nominate a deeply unpopular candidate with independent voters and not if the Democrats effectively pin the blame on the intransigent GOP in Congress.
A 19FortyFive Senior Editor, Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.