29 May 2023

The debt ceiling deal

Well, that wasn't as bad as it could have been.

From what I've seen in the reporting so far, the deal does not raise the debt ceiling by a dollar amount, but suspends it until the beginning of 2025.  This is a positive since it means that if a recession occurs, the government will be able to borrow as much as it needs to in order to re-stimulate the economy.  Spending levels are fixed for 2024 and 2025, which de-fangs the House Republicans' ability to cause further trouble via the normal appropriations process.  The new IRS funding to audit taxpayers with incomes over $400,000 was cut, but only by a little.

Republicans got two substantive wins, neither of them unqualified.  First, the age limit for SNAP work requirements was raised from 49 to 54 and new TANF work requirements were imposed, a rather modest increase in pointless cruelty compared with what they had hoped for, and even that was offset by removal of work requirements for homeless people and veterans.  Second, approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline for natural gas was fast-tracked, the chief result of which will be a slight acceleration of global warming.  The way Fox News is crowing about this shows that it's the biggest win they can point to -- but even there, that project was on track to be approved anyway.  As the approval of the Willow project in Alaska and of expanded drilling in the Gulf of Mexico have already shown, on the climate fight this administration is almost as AWOL as the Trump administration was.  The US has pretty much decided to leave that particular problem to the rest of the world to solve without our help.

Will it pass Congress?  Probably.  In the House, the progs and the trogs are both very unhappy with it and likely to vote against it, but that was expected.  There are almost certainly enough moderates in both parties to pass it without them.  Getting to sixty votes in the Senate shouldn't be a problem, assuming McConnell supports the deal.

McCarthy no doubt relishes the rare opportunity to look statesmanlike by reaching a deal with the president on such an important matter, but I doubt it will last.  Assuming the deal passes the House despite the far-right wingnuts' opposition, they may well vent their rage by challenging his speakership, which would likely lead to another series of desultory rounds of voting for a new speaker like we saw at the beginning of this year, putting the image of House Republicans as a whole firmly back in clown-show territory.

The real negatives are in the medium-term future.  Biden negotiated over raising the debt ceiling after first insisting he would not, which shows weakness and legitimizes Republican hostage tactics.  If the Republicans hold the House majority next year (unlikely) or capture the Senate majority (quite likely), we'll end up dealing with the same mess again in 2025.  So I won't be too unhappy if Congress fails to pass the thing after all, forcing Biden to invoke the Fourteenth Amendment and eliminate this problem once and for all, as he damn well should have done in the first place.

The full text of the deal is here; a summary of the main points is here.


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