U.S. debt ceiling victory helps Biden bolster his image as an apostle of bipartisanship

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Sometimes presidencies are about things that don’t happen. Joe Biden will breathe a mighty sigh of relief that the economic asteroid hurtling towards planet Earth has turned into a near miss: America apparently isn’t going to miss his watch.

As a bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling by $31.4 billion passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, Biden could also lay claim to vindication of his presidency’s underlying theory: that at the age of polarization, it takes an apostle of bipartisanship and a 36-year-old veteran. of the Senate to reach across the aisle and do business with his opponents.

Only Biden, the argument goes, can bridge gaps that seem unbridgeable in the era of Donald Trump.

Such offers come at a price, of course. Not even the White House has asserted that the hard-won budget deal is a cornucopia of delights for the Democratic base. But it’s worth noting that more Democrats than Republicans voted for the 99-page bill, an unofficial scorecard showing who got the most of what they wanted, and even the progressives getting in on it. opposed reserved their contempt for its content rather than for their president.

Of course, there will be plenty of time to debate how Biden and the Democrats could have played this episode better. They could have raised or lifted the debt ceiling when they had control of the White House and both houses of Congress. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia told the Politico website that if he could “do one thing differently, it would have raised the debt ceiling at the end of last year.”

The president may also have been lulled into a false sense of security by the shenanigans around Kevin McCarthy’s election as Speaker of the House in January. It took 15 ballots and involved a Republican majority mired in division and dysfunction. But Democrats underestimate the ability of Republicans to align at their peril.

McCarthy managed to lead his unwieldy coalition by passing a debt limit bill crammed with Conservative priorities and spending cuts. If Biden was hoping moderate Republicans would bow to logic — the debt limit is for spending Congress has already authorized, not future appropriations — and break ranks, rather than embrace the doomsday prospect of default, he had to think again.

The president duly canceled a trip to Australia and Papua New Guinea to speak with McCarthy. He deployed a negotiating team that included Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, working such long hours that she admitted to reporters that she had run out of clean clothes.

What emerged was a deal that protected Biden’s legislative achievements, including the bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the Cut Inflation Act, pushing back against Republicans’ attempts to repeal the government’s green energy incentives. this last. The White House also brushed aside Republican proposals to cut funding for education, health care, law enforcement and Social Security.

The argument that “it could have been worse” is hardly an inspiring re-election slogan, but the White House would argue that it is realistic in a divided government. If anyone is channeling Biden’s bipartisan spirit, it’s Young, a former House Appropriations Committee staff director who speaks his language of compromise, flexibility and give-and-take.

She insisted, “Look, the House isn’t much different from when I was there. You have to have some faith in the ruling majority, which I do, because I have a lot of respect for members on both sides of the aisle to do what’s best for the American people. And it’s not something Pollyanian. I know them. And I always thought we could get here if we let the extremes go.

Letting go of the extreme, as Young puts it, is generally a doomed endeavor since Trump’s descent on an escalator from Trump Tower in 2015 signaled the Republican Party’s descent into a cult of personality. The far-right Freedom Caucus unleashed sound and fury against the deal, inadvertently complimenting Biden on outwitting McCarthy (quite a feat for a man they also insist is senile).

On the left was the opposition of Pramila Jayapal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives. They condemned work requirements for food assistance programs for some poor Americans, cutting Internal Revenue Service funding that could make life easier for wealthy tax evaders, and speeding up the permitting process for a gas pipeline. in West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin).

It could shake Biden’s long-term support, fueling the perception that he’s pivoting to the center as 2024 approaches. But again, it could have been worse.

There was no mass revolt against him. Progressives understood that the “maga Republicans” had held the economy hostage and left Biden no choice but to negotiate the ransom. Congressman Jamie Raskin said, “We need to make sure this type of legislative extortion never happens again.” The president constantly benefits from the “Don’t judge me against the almighty, judge me against the alternative” dynamic.

The bill is now heading to the Senate after a vote in the House which, as a purple mix of Democrats and Republicans, could hardly have been more bidenesque in hitting the middle ground between left and right. It was his predecessor who wrote a book called The Art of the Deal. But it’s Biden who continues to exceed low expectations as he finds common ground in the dying middle.

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