Kevin McCarthy can now dialogue with President Biden on the debt limit

President Kevin McCarthy got what he wanted from Tuesday’s debt limit talks at the White House – the chance to face President Biden one-on-one.

The speaker, who feels he was treated with disdain by the White House and congressional Democrats, secured an agreement that his representatives would now negotiate directly with Mr Biden’s top aides. The change minimized the role of the rest of the congressional leadership and gave him and the president more direct control over high-stakes discussions aimed at avoiding a disastrous default.

Now Mr. McCarthy plays at the highest level, like the speakers of both parties before him.

“We finally have a formula that has proven itself in the past,” McCarthy said after the meeting.

The speaker’s success in vying for a top spot at the negotiating table is something of a reward for a risky strategy that brought the United States weeks away from a potentially catastrophic default. Mr McCarthy has refused to agree to raise the debt ceiling without conditions, thus pointing a metaphorical gun to the head of the economy until Mr Biden agrees to cut spending.

After insisting for months that he never would, the president seems ready to discuss a possible ransom.

It’s no secret on Capitol Hill that Mr. McCarthy and his fellow Republicans believe the White House and congressional Democrats consistently underestimated the speaker after his expectations for a much larger majority failed. failed and had to fight through 15 ballots to win his job. in January. Republicans believe Democrats did not give Mr. McCarthy the same standing and respect as his predecessors John A. Boehner and Paul D. Ryan, who had stronger policy choices.

At a press conference last week, Mr McCarthy declined to say he was offended or angered by the president’s esteem for him. But he showed his annoyance, noting that Mr Biden had assured him they would meet again after an initial discussion on February 1, but had then failed to organize another session for months, until the House passed its own legislation raising the debt ceiling while cutting spending and implementing other favored Republican priorities.

“If you think the debt ceiling is as important as I think it is, why would you be silent for 97 days?” Mr. McCarthy asked. “Why would you tell me one thing, that we are going to meet, and then not?”

Democrats and the White House based their push for an unconditional debt ceiling increase on the premise that Mr McCarthy would be unable to unite his restless Republican conference around a plan – which is not a vision irrational given that dozens of far-right Republicans had sworn never to vote to raise the debt ceiling. Democrats believed that House Republicans’ failure would then create a scenario in which members of both parties would rush to raise the debt ceiling without accompanying spending cuts to avoid a catastrophic default.

But Mr McCarthy defied expectations and pushed through a partisan proposal which he says is so far the only legislation to raise the debt ceiling that has emerged.

The change in negotiating parameters now puts Mr. McCarthy on a level playing field with the White House, a level playing field that Republicans say suits his stature. In the new arrangement, two top-level presidential appointees, White House adviser Steve Ricchetti and budget director Shalanda Young, will attempt to strike a deal to raise the debt ceiling directly with Rep. Garret Graves, Republican of Louisiana and a close lieutenant McCarthy, as well as other senior aides to the speaker.

This produced a noticeable change in Mr. McCarthy’s attitude about the talks, which had been very pessimistic just hours before.

Although he said the two sides remained far apart on the issues, his expectations for the potential outcome had brightened considerably and his office issued a press release stating that “negotiations are ongoing”.

“After months of delays by President Joe Biden, negotiations are finally underway for a responsible debt ceiling increase,” he said.

Given the tight deadline, Mr. Biden and key congressional Democrats have — for now at least — dropped their insistence on an unconditional debt ceiling increase and instead opened the door to a bipartisan deal covering spending and some political issues. This is where Mr McCarthy says Democrats should have been months ago.

“Unfortunately, the Democrats wasted four months, saying it had to be a clean debt limit, saying they wouldn’t negotiate,” he said. “Well, you know what? All that has changed now and we are at a place where we should have been back in February.

As events unfolded on Tuesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and minority leader who crafted past debt limit resolutions, said the new negotiating momentum could be crucial to a deal.

“The president and the president are the keys to the deal,” McConnell said.

Having gotten what he wanted in bargaining power, Mr. McCarthy now faces even greater pressure to strike a deal with Mr. Biden, even as the White House and congressional Democrats resist key Republican demands. , such as stricter work requirements on food stamps. and other benefits.

An even tougher challenge may be keeping House Republicans behind any deal that may eventually be reached. Many far-right Tories who backed Mr McCarthy’s proposal last month did so to bolster his bargaining power and are unwilling to accept less. Still, all sides agreed on Tuesday that the end result must be bipartisan in nature, one that, almost by definition, would be met with opposition from the furthest reaches of the speaker’s right flank.

Republicans believe Mr McCarthy will be able to produce the necessary support, noting he has already won votes on the House debt restraint measure, a parental rights bill and a package of immigration he had to lose or give up.

None of those moves stand a chance of surviving the Democratic-led Senate, but McCarthy’s allies say they show he has a firm grip on its members.

“He’s demonstrated that he has a strong grip on this conference,” said Rep. Tom Cole, the Oklahoma Republican who chairs the bylaws committee. “It’s pretty easy for me to say I’ll be comfortable with what he comes back to, given what he’s done so far.”

Mr McCarthy predicted he would prevail, although some doubt his abilities.

“Here’s a Republican conference that none of you gave credence to or thought we could achieve,” McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill, reviewing his legislative successes. “We have discovered that collectively we can work together and find solutions to the problems that Americans expect.”

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