House Democrats Extremely Frustrated, Don't Like What They're Hearing on Debt Ceiling Negotiations

House Democrats Extremely Frustrated, Don't Like What They're Hearing on Debt Ceiling Negotiations
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

With a debt ceiling deal seemingly unlikely before Memorial Day, Democrats are feeling all sorts of feelings over the debt ceiling negotiations that have been going on between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Part of the problem is that several parts of the Democratic Caucus have several different complaints. Progressives don’t want cuts at all. Moderates don’t want work requirements. Swing district Democrats don’t want to rock the boat in what could be a bad electoral year. Everyone has complaints, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries is in the rather unenviable position of fielding all those complaints and playing go-between. He and his leadership team are taking complaints from the caucus and getting… well, very little from the White House.

Punchbowl News has some pretty good details in its morning newsletter.

Democrats don’t like what they’ve heard about the emerging debt-limit and federal spending deal between President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy. And that sense has been building within House Democratic ranks all week.

The leadership trio warned the White House that it can’t just assume 80 to 100 Democrats will back any Biden-McCarthy deal. Tougher work requirements for social-welfare programs is the most sensitive issue for many Democrats, with McCarthy continuing to press the White House to give in on this front.

“We’ve been exceedingly clear where we are depending on what’s in it,” said a senior Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

It goes on from there, but you get the idea. The Democrats have surely realized they’ve already lost this fight, and now it’s just a matter of how bad. The fact that they’re even at the negotiating table means the Republicans won, and the Democrats are nervous because they don’t think McCarthy will bring all his votes across.

That concern may very well be valid. But as long as the negotiated plan isn’t a clean debt ceiling raise, all Republicans should be on board. It’s a step in the right direction, it’s a victory, and it’s a campaignable talking point for next year’s election cycle: “We got Joe Biden to cave!” should be a big talking point no matter what happens. That is one thing the Democrats have consistently misjudged the Republicans on, though. They have gone so far as to try to convince voters that the GOP is the “extreme MAGA” party that they themselves believe it. But the Republicans don’t need an all-or-nothing strategy when death by a thousand cuts will be just as good.

But while the House is in a full-blown panic over the negotiations and the White House’s rather tight lips over what’s happening behind closed doors, the White House is acting like everything is grand, communication is both open and cordial, and the Republicans are definitely going to lose something on this.

And it’s clear that the media really would like to take the White House’s side on this, as my colleague Bonchie pointed out recently when POLITICO went with the Biden administration’s absolute re-write of the facts. But they, too, realize that the ball is in Biden’s court, and he looks about ready to drop it.

This all stems back to one big mistake by the Democrats: They had a lame-duck session where they could have raised the debt ceiling with no fuss and instead chose to let it become a fight with Republicans, thinking that the momentum was on their side. Big, big mistake, because not only did they lose a chance to keep their spending sprees going, they actually stand to lose this fight.

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