Republicans need to pivot on the debt limit
WASHINGTON >> Republicans might not realize it yet, but they’re going to need an offramp in the debt limit fight they have picked with President Biden. Democrats are not going to allow the GOP to repeal all the massive spending increases they passed in the first two years of Biden’s presidency, and Republicans are not going to drive the nation’s economy off a fiscal cliff.
Republicans are not stupid. They saw the Fox News poll released Wednesday that found 80 percent of Americans think the economy is in poor shape, 74 percent believe we will go into recession this year and 61 percent blame Biden. Republicans are not going to cause a debt crisis that allows Biden to shift ownership of the weak economy to them.
But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) can’t be seen as capitulating to Biden, or he will lose his speakership.
So Republicans are going to need a face-saving way out, something other than the deep spending cuts they are seeking in exchange for increasing the debt limit. They need a demand that will unite Republicans and divide Democrats — and one that Biden will have a hard time refusing.
There’s a simple solution: Instead of spending cuts, they should insist that the White House hand over all the classified documents found at his Wilmington, Del., home and his former office at the Penn Biden Center in Washington.
Senior Democrats have already publicly joined Republicans in demanding Biden release these documents. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) declared after a briefing by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines that “every member” of the committee — Democrats and Republicans — was “unanimous” that the Biden administration’s refusal to share the documents with the committee “is not going to stand.”
“It is our job to make sure that the security of our country is protected and that the intelligence that our country depends upon is not compromised,” Warner said. “We don’t want to get into a question of threats at this point,” he added, but “all things will be on the table to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
There is no reason “all things” can’t include linking a debt limit increase to the administration’s compliance with bipartisan demands for access to those documents.
Such a linkage would turn the tables on Biden. If he refuses, he would be risking a fiscal crisis to protect himself from congressional oversight of his mishandling of classified information. That would be hard to sell to the American people.
Right now, the debt limit fight has Democrats united and Republicans divided. The GOP is split between fiscal hawks who want to cut the Pentagon budget and defense hawks who will fight such reductions. But if Republicans pivot and demand the documents, it would be the GOP that is united and Democrats who are divided. Warner would be hardpressed not to urge Biden to take the deal.
Biden won’t be able to argue that he cannot hand over the documents while a Justice Department investigation is underway. The administration had no problem cooperating with document requests from the House select committee on Jan. 6 while a Justice Department investigation was simultaneously underway. As Warner has said, “The notion that we have to wait until a special prosecutor blesses the intelligence committee’s oversight will not stand.”
In the end, Biden will have no choice but to give in and produce the documents — which would be a major victory for McCarthy and the new Republican House majority.
But if Republicans stick to their demands for spending cuts, they will lose. Any time the markets tumble, inflation spikes or a bad jobs report is released, Democrats will lay the blame at McCarthy’s feet and warn that far worse is to come if Republicans don’t stop threatening default. And history shows that voters punish the party that plays chicken with the economy.
Biden is all but certain to begin laying the groundwork for this line of attack in his State of the Union address next week — using his direct channel to a national audience of millions to explain the many fiascoes that could ensue if Republicans force us to risk default on our debt.
In the end, Republicans will have no choice but to give up their current demands. Wouldn’t it be better to do it sooner rather than later, and pivot to a winning strategy, so they can claim an early victory in their first standoff with Biden?
McCarthy has a choice. One path leads to victory, the other to defeat — and to him potentially following in the footsteps of Rep. Theodore M. Pomeroy (RN.Y.), who holds the record as the shortest-serving speaker of the House.