Kevin McCarthy Goes a Little Too Far in Trying to Sell His Debt Ceiling Deal

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

The recently agreed-to debt ceiling deal between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden has already set off a firestorm on both sides of the political aisle. Conservatives are mad it doesn’t contain any meaningful spending cuts while progressives are upset that the deal dares to slow the growth of spending at all.

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With that said, even if I don’t agree with the end result, McCarthy at least has a case to make. He forced Biden to the negotiating table after months of the White House saying there would be no compromise. That’s a win in and of itself, at least on a political level. As a policy matter, the provisions in the deal are less than ideal.

Still, I could understand McCarthy saying that politics is the art of the possible and that he was able to extract real concessions in the face of demands for a clean debt ceiling hike. With a Democrat-controlled White House and Senate, deep spending cuts were never on the table. A slowing of the growth of government isn’t my idea of a victory, but it is something.

Unfortunately, McCarthy is crossing the line into gaslighting while trying to defend the deal. Here’s a bit of the Speaker’s recent op-ed as reported on by Townhall.

The deal is a significant victory for GOP priorities, in return for raising the debt ceiling that had to be raised anyway. Mr. Biden tried to jam the GOP into a clean debt increase, but Republicans forced him to the table when they passed the Limit, Save, Grow bill. The lesson is that political unity pays. The deal lifts the current $31.4 trillion debt limit into 2025 while capping non-defense discretionary spending at $704 billion for fiscal 2024. That’s higher than the House GOP’s demand for a return to fiscal 2022 levels ($689 billion), though it’s a significant cut from the projected 2024 baseline of $757 billion. Both sides agreed to increase the veterans’ health share portion of this discretionary pot, so the cuts to other accounts will be greater and close to fiscal 2022 levels. The domestic discretionary cap will rise to $711 billion in fiscal 2025, a 1% increase…

The GOP resisted the Democratic demand for parity between defense and social-welfare spending…The deal includes relatively small gains on work requirements for welfare programs…divided government requires compromise and, as the 2011 debt-limit deal showed when future spending caps were broken, no Congress can bind a future Congress…McCarthy won the showdown with Mr. Biden over domestic discretionary spending by picking politically popular ground to fight on and then rounding up 218 votes to give his negotiators leverage. Assuming the deal passes Congress, it will defy the Democratic narrative that Republicans can’t govern. Mr. McCarthy’s troops are proving they can, and conservatives would be foolish to abandon the victories in this deal.

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Alright now, settle down there, turbo. I’m willing to give McCarthy the benefit of the doubt that there wasn’t much else to get given the current make-up of the government, even if I don’t really like the deal. But please don’t tinkle on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

This deal is not a significant win for GOP priorities. It barely affects deficit spending, and to even reach its meager projections, Democrats would have to voluntarily keep spending caps in place that expire after two years. The work requirement provisions appear to be very narrow, and the deal only claws back a tiny fraction of the new IRS spending appropriated in the Inflation Reduction Act. Further, the recovered COVID spending only amounts to around $50 billion, which is a rounding error given the current spending levels.

In other words, there’s a lot of stuff that sounds good but that doesn’t add up to much. Yes, Republicans won the messaging battle by forcing Biden’s hand and splitting the Democratic Party, but that’s not the same thing as the deal actually being objectively good. I’d prefer McCarthy just be honest about the limitations he faced instead of pretending as if he just agreed to some total victory for conservatism. That’s just not what this deal is.

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