WASHINGTON — While President Joe Biden was poised to sign a debt ceiling bill loaded with Republican spending cuts, Chairman Kevin McCarthy proved he could use the threat of default to secure concessions of a Democratic president – even if his party controls only one legislative chamber, and by a narrow majority.
The result, which capped weeks of uncertainty over whether the United States would run out of money, worried Democrats, legal scholars and others that debt ceiling stalemates are becoming the norm for set partisan politics.
Biden has pledged to explore the constitutional challenge to the debt ceiling in the coming months as Democrats in Congress hope to eliminate it through legislation. But legal experts said Biden’s push is problematic now that a default has been averted and a legislative response is unlikely in a divided Congress.
“The process sets an extremely dangerous precedent,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the House Progressive Caucus, who voted against the debt ceiling deal with most of her caucus members. “Republicans can hold the economy hostage, they can impose their extremist political priorities that have absolutely nothing to do with cutting spending or cutting the deficit.”
‘We used the power we had’: How McCarthy got Biden to negotiate
For months, Biden has said he would not negotiate with McCarthy over raising the debt ceiling, pushing for a “clean” unconditional increase to avoid a default, as previous Congresses have repeatedly done. earlier to ensure that the United States can meet its spending obligations.
The White House has gambled on the fact that Republican-proposed spending cuts were so unpopular that five or more House Republicans would end up joining Democrats in passing a debt ceiling bill.
But a major turning point came on April 26 when the Republican-controlled House passed its own debt ceiling bill with more than $4 trillion in spending cuts that also sought to eliminate key climate policies. and economics of Biden. House Republican has proven they are united. The White House has lost its influence. And Biden quickly began negotiating budget priorities.
“We used the power we had to force the president to negotiate,” McCarthy said during a speech on the floor Wednesday before the House approved the deal he struck with Biden.
Democrats forced to vote for ‘reprehensible’ bill
The “Fiscal Responsibility Act” passed in the House by a wide margin of 314 to 117, with strong majorities from both parties, and in the Senate by a comfortable vote of 63 to 36.
More Democrats than Republicans in both houses voted for the bill. Democrats held their noses to vote for a bill containing provisions they oppose, saying their goal was to avert an economic crisis.
“While I find this legislation reprehensible, it will prevent an unprecedented default, which would be devastating to American families,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, former House Speaker Democrat from California.
McCarthy, speaking to reporters after the House vote, was more than happy to see Democrats voting for policies they don’t like.
“I think it’s wonderful that they voted for because they’re now registered,” McCarthy said. “So they can’t sit there and shout it’s no good.”
Are we ready for another debt ceiling stalemate?
The debt ceiling bill suspends the limit on how much the federal government can borrow until the end of 2024, postponing the next action on the debt ceiling until after the presidential election.
If Biden wins re-election and Democrats regain control of the House and win back the Senate, this year’s standoff over the debt ceiling would be averted. But a split legislative branch with Biden still in the White House could be a recipe for a repeat debt ceiling.
There’s also this scenario: Biden loses the presidency but the Democrats win either the House or the Senate. Could the Democrats then use their influence in the next Congress to pursue their political demands under a debt ceiling agreement? At the top of their priorities could be cutting former President Donald Trump’s tax cuts for corporations and wealthy Americans.
“By weaponizing the debt ceiling, Republicans are setting a precedent that will haunt us forever,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., “This side alone can use the full faith and credit of the United States as hostage to push through their largely unpopular ideas that they couldn’t get through the normal legislative process.It’s a lousy, lousy way to govern.
Biden wants to explore the 14th Amendment to avoid future debt ceiling standoffs
Throughout the weeks-long standoff over the debt ceiling, Biden said he was considering invoking the 14th Amendment to circumvent Congress and circumvent the debt ceiling, which sets a cap on the amount United States can borrow.
During a low point in negotiations with McCarthy, Biden was adamant that he believed he had the power to unilaterally prevent a default due to the 14th Amendment, which states that “the validity of the public debt of states States…will not be questioned”.
Although he eventually reached a deal with House Republicans, Biden has repeatedly said he wants to consider taking the 14th Amendment argument to court to challenge the debt ceiling.
“I’m going to be very direct with you: when we get to that, I’m thinking of taking a look at — months later — to see if, what the court would say,” Biden said on May 9. After reaching a tentative deal with McCarthy, Biden said last Sunday he wanted to see “whether or not you should lower the debt ceiling every year.”
“But that’s another day,” Biden added.
Legal experts question Biden’s strategy
Laurence Tribe, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and constitutional law scholar, helped advise Biden on the 14th Amendment.
Had Congress not taken action by the June 5 default date, Tribe said the 14th Amendment would have “imposed an obligation” on Biden to ensure the Treasury meets its financial obligations.
Still, Tribe and other legal experts have said Biden’s quest to get an answer from a court before the next debt ceiling crisis is unrealistic without an imminent default as grounds for challenging the law.
“That would be very problematic,” Tribe said. “It is clear that at the time of the crisis it is too late to test it. And it is clear that at a time like this, when the debt ceiling does not weigh on us, it too early to test it.”
Garrett Epps, a constitutional law professor at the University of Oregon, also questioned Biden’s strategy. “It puzzles me ever since he said it,” said Epps, who supports the 14th Amendment theory. “If there is no fault, then where is it?”
Epps said Republicans, in essence, demanded concessions from the Biden administration by “threatening to violate the Constitution” by not paying US debts.
“I think the problem is that he’s normalized that kind of risk now,” Epps said of Biden. “And I’m afraid Biden’s response was thoughtless enough for it to happen again in two years.”
Tribe said the 14th Amendment will need to be explored “outside the courts” by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the White House Office of Legal Counsel and the Congressional Research Service.
“It’s not ideal. It’s not going to lead to a resolution that everyone agrees with,” Tribe said. “But we need to at least start the dialogue. We can’t just say, well, we’re past this crisis, now we can forget about it..”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will debt ceiling standoffs become the new norm?