Biden lets others throw the ball but gets a win

President Joe Biden prepares to travel to Colorado for the Air Force Academy graduation, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

President Joe Biden prepares to travel to Colorado for the Air Force Academy graduation, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — Since striking a deal to avoid a national default, President Joe Biden has staunchly refused to brag about what he got in the deal.

“Why would Biden say what a great deal this is before the vote?” he asked reporters at one point, referring to himself in the third person. “Do you think this will help me pass it?” No. That’s why you don’t negotiate very well.

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The president calculated that the more he bragged that the deal was good for his side, the more he would inflame Republicans on the other side, damaging the chances of pushing the deal through the tightly divided House. His reluctance stood in stark contrast to his negotiating partner, Chairman Kevin McCarthy, who has been running around the Capitol in recent days, calling the deal a “historic” victory for fiscal conservatives.

While Biden knew it would aggravate progressives in his own party, he bet he could keep enough in line without getting his chest punched publicly and thought it was more important to let McCarthy claim victory to downplay a revolt on the hard right that could put his presidency in danger. Indeed, in private briefing calls after the deal, White House officials told Democratic allies they thought they got a good deal, but urged their surrogates not to say so publicly, to lest it upset the delicate balance.

The strategy paid off with a strong bipartisan House vote Wednesday night passing the deal, which will suspend the debt ceiling while imposing spending restrictions for the next two years. The Senate followed with passage of the bill Thursday night, with similar bipartisan support.

The president’s approach to the negotiations – and especially their consequences – reflects half a century of negotiations in Washington. When someone has been around as long as Biden, resisting the temptation to kick the ball and claim victory can be key to securing victory in the first place. From the start of the clash with McCarthy’s Republicans, Biden has followed the instincts he developed through long, hard and sometimes painful experience.

Some of his fellow Democrats have complained that Biden’s measured messaging — “this is a bipartisan deal,” he said when asked who got the better of the compromise — let Republicans dominate the conversation. In their view, Biden was too eager to get a deal, even at the expense of political concessions that they found anathema, and too passive to argue for the pact once he had signed it.

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists on a global scale. Why are we going to negotiate here with the economic terrorists that are the Republican Party? Rep. Jamaal Bowman, DN.Y., told reporters.

The debate over winners currently raging in Washington could shape the narrative for both sides as they navigate this new era of divided government. Republicans want to take credit for putting an expanding federal government to the diet while Democrats want to tell their supporters that they protected key progressive priorities.

The deal crafted by Biden and McCarthy was ultimately a scaled down version of the original proposals on the table. Biden won no Democratic initiatives under the deal — no new taxes on the wealthy or prescription drug rebates, for example — but he did manage to rein in the hard-line ambitions of conservatives who wanted to cut costs. spending for the next decade and gutting some of the president’s most significant accomplishments in his first two years in office.

The spending restrictions will only apply for the next two years instead of the 10 years Republicans want and will result in less than half the cuts they wanted. The work requirements eventually added to social safety net programs were more modest than originally planned and did not apply to Medicaid at all, as Republicans insisted. While some food aid recipients between the ages of 50 and 54 will now face work demands, many other veterans or homeless people will be excluded for the first time in what the Congressional Budget Office estimated. to be a clean wash as far as the total is concerned.

Republican efforts to roll back clean energy investments and block student loan forgiveness were cut from the final deal, and they had to settle for cutting $20 billion from the $80 billion plan. Biden to bolster IRS efforts to target wealthy tax evaders rather than cancel it altogether.

“As a purely political calculation, the #DebtCeilingAgreement could have been worse,” Rep. Ro Khanna, a prominent progressive Democrat from California, wrote on Twitter before voting against the deal. “But it’s not about politics, it’s about people.”

Biden’s approach was decidedly old-school in a new-school era. No matter how much McCarthy assailed him for waiting 97 days to address the dispute, the president felt there was no point in rushing into protracted talks, given that no major agreement in Washington is reached. until a deadline looms with catastrophic consequences if the two sides don’t come together.

While he initially insisted the debt ceiling was “non-negotiable,” Biden eventually dropped that point of principle to do exactly what he said he wouldn’t do. He barely maintained the fiction that negotiating spending cuts was not the same as negotiating the debt ceiling, a distinction few, if any, saw. When it was brought to his attention at some point this week, he finally shrugged and said, “Well, can you think of an alternative?”

Some in his party might — they wanted him to claim the power to ignore the debt ceiling, citing the 14th Amendment, which states that the federal government’s “validity of public debt” “shall not be called into question”. But Biden is an institutionalist, and while he said he agreed with the interpretation that the amendment gave him such untested authority, he was hesitant to affirm it at this point, believing that would be challenged in court and could still result in default for an extended period. dispute.

Many others in both parties have rushed to TV cameras in recent days to comment on the meaning of the deal and the effects it would have on politics or politics, but Biden has positioned himself as the quiet man of the capital, the mature leader he hopes voters will favor in next year’s election. The president indulged in occasional Republican attacks when it seemed strategically useful, but he didn’t feel the need to get into the public positioning fray just for fun, either before or after the conclusion of the election. ‘OK.

Even as his allies and even his own White House issued inflammatory statements, Biden acted like the person who had been there before. Because of course he did. Several times. At one point during the final stage of the talks, as the two sides threw public grenades at each other while quietly narrowing their differences, Biden advised reporters not to pay so much attention. It was all part of the process, he said.

“It’s done in stages,” he said. “I have already participated in these negotiations.” He explained the back and forth, involving meetings of negotiators and then reporting back to their leaders. “What happens is that the first meetings were not so progressive. The latter were. The third was. And then what happens is they—the carriers go back to the directors and say, “That’s what we’re thinking. And then people file new claims.

Everything would work out eventually, he assured the Americans. And as far as he is concerned, he did. It doesn’t matter what anyone else may say.

circa 2023 The New York Times Society

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