Who should get more credit for shepherding the deal that avoided a disastrous national default on the country’s $31.4 trillion debt?
If you are a moderate Republican you would probably say Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy deserves the lion share of adulation for his leadership during the crisis.
Alternatively, if you are a centrist Democrat, you probably want to note President Joe Biden’s skill at negotiating.
Debt Ceiling Bill Passes With Ample Support
Both deserve credit for the deal, and it passed the House of Representatives and the Senate with flying colors. Of course, members from extreme wings of both parties voted against it alleging that the president and the speaker sold out conservative or progressive values on government spending. But the measure passed the House 314-117 and the Senate 63 to 36. It will now go to the president’s desk for his signature and then Biden will address the nation June 2 to take a victory lap.
A Year and a Half of Fiscal Safety
The country is safe from default until January 2025 after the presidential election of 2024. So, once again Congress has kicked the can down the road for perhaps a new president to deal with. But now Americans who depend on government transfer payments, federal employees, and those working in the financial sector can breathe a sigh of relief. The government was scheduled to run out of operating funds on June 5 had the debt ceiling not been suspended.
The “Fiscal Responsibility Act” will put a limit on discretionary and non-military spending. To answer Republican concerns, there will be some work requirements on government-provided food aid. The legislation claws back a significant amount of Covid-19 relief money.
The Stakes Were High
Congressional members and staff, including the president and his aides, had to thread the needle while the clock ticked down. The Senate should be lauded for bringing the measure to the floor so quickly with a vote late at night on June 1. There were numerous times in May that it looked like both sides were deadlocked with no agreement in sight.
Neither party entirely got what they wanted during the painful process, but it is a rare display of bipartisanship that happened in a town not known for compromise.
Senators Did Their Job
Senate leaders were quick to bask in the glow. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “We may be a little tired, but we did it. So, we’re very, very happy. Default was the giant sword hanging over America’s head.” Schumer was satisfied that he wrangled his caucus to stay together and support the bill.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who largely allowed McCarthy and his staff to take the lead on the negotiations, was equally relieved. McConnell had predicted the bill would pass the House and he was confident he could successfully whip votes to support the measure.
The person of the hour is McCarthy. The Republican leader had endured criticism as a do-nothing Speaker who had no legislative victories during his tenure. He stayed after Biden to make sure as many Republican wants and needs were in the final bill. The Speaker kept at it and displayed an optimistic attitude throughout. He threw no bombs and made no incendiary threats, even though some in his party and those across the aisle did have apocalyptic things to say during the process.
Biden himself claimed that he had ample experience in high-stakes negotiations, and it showed. He mostly bargained in good faith and gave up some issues and gained ground on others. Voters may give him some leeway before they criticize him for failure in the coming weeks. His presidency will be remembered for averting a fall off the financial cliff.
Overall, the country can go about its business in the coming months. The economy has some green shoots. Unemployment is at record lows and jobs are being created. A government shutdown would have created a situation where financial markets would have crashed to unseen lows. The debt ceiling agreement will allow Americans who are worried about their retirement accounts to sleep better at night and it will give the country a shot in the arm to show that there can still be progress in the swamps of DC.
Author Expertise and Experience:
Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.