WASHINGTON — Progressive lawmakers are seething at President Joe Biden’s deal with House Republicans for raising the debt ceiling, warning that it could normalize taking the nation’s economy hostage for years to come.
They have plenty of gripes with the deal itself that Biden cut with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). But their biggest critiques are about the process rather than the actual contents of the bill.
“It rewards the hostage-taking that the Republicans have gotten so damn good at,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Tuesday. “I’m disappointed that our president was put in this position. The Republicans are demanding changes that they cannot get through the ordinary democratic process because they’re not supported by the American people.”
“The minute we get the votes, we need to eliminate the debt ceiling,” Warren added. “For good.”
Across the building, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said many in her 100-member caucus are “deeply, deeply concerned,” both about the process that it took to reach a debt deal and about some of the GOP policies that made it into the final bill.
“The process … sets an extremely dangerous precedent: Republicans can hold the economy hostage,” Jayapal told reporters on Tuesday. “They can force through their extremist policy priorities that have absolutely nothing to do with cutting spending or cutting the deficit.”
No one got everything they wanted in the agreement. Democrats were forced to eat their words about not negotiating with “economic terrorists,” as one lawmaker put it, while some Republicans are upset that the deal raised the debt ceiling for two years in exchange for insufficient spending cuts.
“There’s going to be a reckoning about what just occurred,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said Tuesday, calling the deal a “betrayal” of the Republican caucus.
In terms of policy changes, Democrats agreed to new work requirements for some federal safety net programs while excluding veterans and people who are homeless from the requirements, framing those exclusions as a win. Republicans, meanwhile, touted cuts to Internal Revenue Service funding.
But even as they spun the deal as the best possible outcome Biden could have produced with a GOP-controlled House, some Democratic senators couldn’t help but express frustration with the whole process.
“This is a really bad position to be in for the Democratic victory to be a lack of a global economic meltdown. It’s a pretty bad precedent to set,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
Warren and other progressives have argued that Democrats wouldn’t have found themselves in this position had they tried to eliminate the debt ceiling — or raise it by a large amount, making it functionally irrelevant — in prior years when they controlled both the House and Senate. Such an effort could only have been possible under a party-line vote in the Senate, which was controlled by a narrow 50-50 Democratic majority last year.
“I talked to everyone publicly and privately that I could, urging people to move it forward while Democrats still had control of the House and Senate. Democrats didn’t get the job done,” Warren lamented.
The problem, of course, is that not every Senate Democrat agreed. A handful of moderate Democrats resisted such efforts, and Democratic leadership was careful not to force a vote on such a divisive issue that could have threatened the party’s chances of retaining a majority in the 2022 November midterm elections.
“We should have eliminated the debt ceiling, but that’s not an easy thing to do,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). “There are different views among Democrats and Republicans within our caucuses on this issue.”
The reality is that Republican and Democratic leaders likely won’t need many progressives to vote with them to pass the bill. And even as progressives wrestle with whether to support the deal, some said there were victories in the final bill that went beyond averting an economic crisis.
“Most importantly, the Republicans did not win any major concessions on spending,” said Jayapal. “I very much appreciate what the president and his team did to minimize the most extreme demands and impulses of these MAGA Republicans.”