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Biden’s steady hand.
June 1, 2023
On Wednesday, the House passed a budget bill that suspends the debt ceiling through January 2025. The bill passed with support from 149 Republicans and 165 Democrats. It will take days to untangle the sundry motivations for votes against the bill, especially on the Democratic side of the House. But the primary reason for Republican unhappiness is clear. As Presidential candidate Tim Scott (R-SC) said, the deal “gives Biden an open checkbook”—an assessment shared by the NYTimes. See NYTimes, The Big Part of the Debt Ceiling Deal Congress Isn’t Talking About.
Per the Times, the bill not only suspends the debt ceiling (i.e., there is no debt ceiling through 2025) but also mandates future spending on bills expected to be passed over the next several months. The cost of those future bills is unknown but may exceed $500 million, reducing the GOP’s targeted deficit reduction from $4.8 trillion to $1 trillion (over a decade). The Times writes,
[T]he agreement struck by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden will require Congress to authorize much more spending as part of a second set of bills expected to pass in coming months.
Those future changes, which the White House is calling “agreed-upon adjustments,” and which many observers have called side deals or even gimmicks, would increase federal spending in unconventional ways and then direct that money into the part of the budget that the current bill cuts the deepest.
And, as noted yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office published a report estimating that SNAP benefits would increase under the deal—deflating a key GOP talking point. As the Freedom Caucus began to absorb the CBO’s report, the number of Republicans voting against the bill—and McCarthy’s leadership—increased steadily throughout the day. See Politico, McCarthy tries to hold off last-minute rebellion over work requirements in debt deal.
House Republican leaders are trying to stave off another wave of GOP defections just hours before a final vote on a deal to avert a national default — this time over the work requirements for aid programs that Republican leaders have publicly touted as a win for their party.
The latest rebellion was spurred by a Congressional Budget Office report released Tuesday night that estimates spending on the food aid program that Republicans attempted to cut during the debt ceiling negotiations would actually increase under the agreement reached by Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden. That has set off a firestorm among conservative lawmakers — threatening a larger revolt within their fractious caucus hours before a final vote on the legislation to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default.
In the end, the House GOP could barely muster two-thirds of its caucus to pass a bill to save the nation from defaulting on its debt—despite a constitutional obligation to do so. McCarthy thus needed support from Democrats to pass the bill—although Democrats had a co-equal constitutional obligation to lift the debt ceiling. It is a fair characterization to say that Democrats “saved” Republicans from their inability to govern.
But as readers noted yesterday in the Comments section of this newsletter, the passage of a bill to prevent default is not a “partisan” victory. It is a victory for the American people, who deserve nothing less from their representatives. Indeed, they deserve a heck of a lot more than staving off a default with two or three days to spare.
So, what do these developments mean? The answer to that question is above my pay grade—I am not a political journalist, and I rely on analysis by others. But since it is too early for most of that analysis to be available, I will make a few blazingly obvious comments. In doing so, I don’t mean to reduce the bill's passage to “winners” and “losers.”
With that throat-clearing and self-deprecation out of the way, here are my observations:
Joe Biden was disciplined and patient, even as Kevin McCarthy held daily whining sessions with a White House press corps eager for content.
Biden played a “long game” to benefit all Americans, while Republicans were focused on “owning the libs.” The former usually prevails over the latter.
Biden has a deep and talented team—a sign of Biden’s skillful leadership. Special credit goes to Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Incredibly, Biden negotiated a deal that suspends the debt ceiling until 2025. In the past, Congress has merely raised the debt ceiling by a specified amount.
Biden also averted a possible government shutdown in September 2023 by agreeing to a spending bill through January 2025.
Although it remains to be seen, Biden may have masterfully played all of us—including the media—by saying he would not negotiate the debt limit and acting coy on using the 14th Amendment. Both of those positions may have been designed to misdirect Republicans and the media about his ultimate strategy.
McCarthy could not secure 150 votes—about two-thirds of his caucus—to support the bill. While he survived, he is weakened. He needed sixty-nine Democratic votes to pass the first significant bill of his tenure. Those votes were not a sign of bipartisanship but a sign of maturity and discipline by Democrats.
Also weakened is the Freedom Caucus, which learned that it could not control McCarthy as it had hoped. The Freedom Caucus was exposed as a paper tiger unwilling to use its ability to call for a vote of “no confidence” on McCarthy.
Ron DeSantis entered the fray late and backed the losing Freedom Caucus. His political judgment is unerringly wrong. Even the impulsive and undisciplined Trump managed to stay quiet despite secretly hoping for a default.
There is undoubtedly more that needs to be said, but the above observations stand out to me tonight. But the biggest takeaway is that all Americans can breathe easier because of Joe Biden’s steady hand.
Trump caught on tape admitting he took classified documents and understood that he could not disseminate them after leaving office.
CNN broke a story on Wednesday that suggests special counsel Jack Smith may have Trump cornered in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. The story is here: CNN, EXCLUSIVE: Trump captured on tape talking about classified document he kept after leaving the White House.
In short, as Trump was being interviewed by researchers for an autobiography by Mark Meadows, the former president acknowledged that he understood he could not share secret documents with persons not authorized to see them. Per CNN:
The recording indicates Trump understood he retained classified material after leaving the White House, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation. On the recording, Trump’s comments suggest he would like to share the information but he’s aware of limitations on his ability post-presidency to declassify records, two of the sources said.
Trump claimed possession of a classified document that undermined public statements by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley about the general’s alleged plans to attack Iran. Per CNN, General Milley testified before a grand jury convened by special prosecutor Jack Smith.
It is possible that Trump was lying about having a battle plan created by Mark Milley to attack Iran—a fact that may be beside the point. Even in his lies about Milley, Trump acknowledged that he was still bound by classification rules that applied to national defense documents. Such a statement is an admission that contradicts Trump's public statement that documents were “automatically declassified” if he removed them from the White House.
Legal commentators are predicting that the existence of the tape could be “game over” for Trump on charges of illegally retaining national defense documents.
The tape's existence was not the only significant development on Wednesday relating to Trump's legal jeopardy. Read on!
Special counsel Jack Smith interviews Trump's election security expert.
Disclosures about the Mar-a-Lago documents case suggest that Trump is in serious jeopardy and that an indictment may be coming this month. But a second disclosure shows that Jack Smith is not ignoring Trump's effort to prevent the peaceful transition of power.
The NYTimes reported on Wednesday that Jack Smith has taken grand jury testimony from Christopher Krebs, a White House election security adviser who contradicted Trump's baseless claims that the 2020 election was marred by fraud. See NYTimes, Trump White House Aides Subpoenaed in Firing of Election Security Expert. (This article is accessible to all.)
If Jack Smith is working to prove that Trump knew his claims of a rigged election were untrue, what better source than Trump's own election security adviser, Christopher Krebs? You may recall that Krebs described the 2020 election as “the most secure election” in US history. Trump promptly fired Krebs.
Per the Times, Jack Smith is also investigating Trump’s use of the White House personnel office to fire any administration employees perceived as “disloyal” to Trump and hostile to his claims of a rigged election. Evidence that such firings were motivated by a desire to unlawfully remain in office could add to Jack Smith’s proof regarding Trump's state of mind.
The report about Christopher Krebs's testimony suggests that Jack Smith is still investigating Trump for possible crimes relating to insurrection, election interference, obstruction, and defrauding the US—in addition to crimes relating to the Mar-a-Lago documents case. Both developments are encouraging, although the timing of charges is becoming increasingly fraught. Trump responded to the CNN report (above) by claiming that Smith is “interfering” in the 2024 election.
Remember when President Biden outsmarted congressional Republicans during the State of the Union address? Biden managed to trick Republicans into taking “off the table” cuts to Social Security and Medicare. That maneuver by Biden is a substantial part of the reason those programs were not part of the spending cuts in the debt ceiling bill.
But Republicans haven’t given up the idea of cutting Social Security and Medicare. During an appearance this week, McCarthy proposed a “commission” to examine additional spending cuts he failed to negotiate as part of his deal with Biden. The “commission” proposal is a sop to unhappy Freedom Caucus members. But that is beside the point. In suggesting the commission, McCarthy also suggested that cuts to Social Security and Medicare should be back on the table. See Raw Story, McCarthy suggests new commission could look at Social Security and Medicare cuts.
So, add to Biden’s negotiating accomplishments the protection of Social Security and Medicare through 2025. After that, it is up to us to ensure that Republicans never regain control Congress. If they do, McCarthy has revealed their true intentions. We must stop them. Biden’s steady hand has shown us the way—with seriousness of purpose and determination focused on helping all Americans.
Talk to you tomorrow!