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McCarthy Tries A Ridiculous Bluff

[ Posted Thursday, March 30th, 2023 – 16:30 UTC ]

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, facing the same intransigence within his caucus that has been present since the rise of the Tea Party, issued a laughably empty threat today. The headline in the Washington Post read: "House GOP Eyes Bill To Cut Spending, Raise Debt Ceiling Amid Stalemate." In poker terms, this is nothing short of a monstrous bluff. It is so far removed from the reality of the situation that the only real response from President Joe Biden and the Democrats should be: "Go right ahead -- please don't let us stop you!"

Here's the key passage from the story:

But the speaker also signaled that Republicans may try to pass their own legislation to raise the debt ceiling and slash spending in the event that they cannot reach a resolution with the White House.

"The conference is very close, and if the president doesn't act, then we will," [Speaker Kevin] McCarthy said.

Such a bill almost surely would fail in the Democratic-controlled Senate and would face an all-but-certain veto by Biden if it somehow cleared the Senate. But GOP leaders, teasing their strategy, seemed inclined to push ahead anyway: Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), one of McCarthy's top deputies, said the House aims to put pressure on Democrats as the deadline approaches.

"We don't want to get in that situation. That's why we have been trying to reach out [to the White House]... throwing some ideas on the table," he said.

But Graves said that turning Republicans' demand into legislation -- and bringing it before the House, even without Biden's support -- is "absolutely an option that's on the table." He later added: "But I think what all of us would prefer is to actually engage and have a discussion."

Allow me to translate, from MAGA-speak into reality-based English: "President Biden has demanded that we come up with a budget proposal, but we are so fractured as a caucus that this may actually be impossible for us to do. So to put pressure on the White House and Democrats, we are going to threaten to pass a budget bill that is tied to raising the debt ceiling."

You see why it is so laughable? Biden is asking them to put their cards on the table so negotiations can begin in earnest. They're unable to do so... so they are threatening to put their cards on the table if Biden doesn't talk to them. This, as you can see, makes zero sense. It is, in fact, the epitome of nonsense.

McCarthy is doing nothing more than offering up a feint. He is trying to project Republican unity and strength when there is none to be found. He is trying to bluff the public into thinking he's got a strong hand to play when he doesn't even have a pair of twos. Perhaps this was in reaction to a story which ran in yesterday's New York Times, which has a much more believable headline: "Debt Talks Are Frozen As House Republicans Splinter Over A Fiscal Plan." It lays out what is really going on within the GOP caucus:

House Republicans who have said they will not vote to raise the national debt limit without deep spending cuts are backing away from their promise to balance the budget and struggling to unite their fractious majority behind a fiscal plan, paralyzing progress on talks to avert a catastrophic default as soon as this summer.

Determined to use the coming confrontation over the national debt to extract sweeping spending concessions from Democrats, House G.O.P. leaders announced a series of lofty goals earlier this year -- driven in large part by the demands of the hard-right faction of their party. They include balancing the federal budget in 10 years and freezing spending at prepandemic levels, all without touching Social Security, Medicare or military funding.

But even as they continue to deride President Biden's $6.8 trillion budget proposal, released this month, House Republicans have begun to inch away from their own stated objectives, plagued by divisions that have prevented them from agreeing on a plan of their own that can draw enough support to pass with their slim majority.

The pledge to balance the nation's budget has gone by the wayside, initially softened to a commitment to put the nation "on a path toward" a balanced budget and now seemingly scrapped altogether. The timetable for when Republicans say they will put out a budget blueprint has continued to slip. And after the Budget Committee chairman told reporters that the party was finalizing a list of specific cuts to bring to negotiations with Mr. Biden, Speaker Kevin McCarthy threw cold water on the idea, saying, "I don't know what he's talking about."

The article also provides some rather eyebrow-raising quotes from the GOP chair of the Financial Services Committee, Representative Patrick T. McHenry: "I don't see how we get there. And this is a marked change from where I've been. I don't even see a path.... I've never been more pessimistic about where we stand with the debt ceiling, and we've been in some bad situations before." Kind of puts the lie to McCarthy's boast today that his "conference is very close." They're obviously not -- they're not even close to being close, in fact.

McCarthy is facing the exact same dynamic that the previous two Republican speakers had to grapple with. The extremist House GOP Tea Party faction (now known as the "Freedom Caucus") are, essentially, purists. "Compromise" is the ugliest word in the English language to them. They want their whole loaf and are absolutely unwilling to vote for even seven-eighths of the same loaf. And their demands are pretty breathtaking in scope.

This faction isn't the entirety of the House GOP, of course. There is also a group who has actual worries of being voted out of office because they come from swing districts. Their constituent voters aren't going to reward them for demanding the abolition of entire federal departments or any other radical ideas, to put this another way. They don't even want to have to vote on such measures, which is why McCarthy is going to have an incredibly difficult time coming up with any sort of budget framework that the Republicans can release to the public (much less hold a floor vote on).

This dynamic is already playing out on other issues. McCarthy had promised to hold a vote on border-related measures within his first two weeks as speaker. They're still squabbling about what to put into one, and it's almost April. It is why McCarthy cannot present any sort of agenda to Biden to begin budget negotiations, because it's almost certain that none of the items on such a list could even pass his own Republican caucus. Some things would be too extreme for the Republicans in swing districts, and some things would not be radical enough for the purists. And McCarthy would need both factions to get on board to pass any sort of budget proposal. It is what might be an unsolvable paradox for him -- which is precisely the reason why Biden is demanding they put up or shut up before the negotiations even begin.

McCarthy's problem is larger than just getting his caucus on the same page. On a larger scale, he faces the exact same problem his swing-district GOP members face -- the fact that deep and painful cuts to various federal programs are going to be massively unpopular with the general public. McCarthy knows this. Even a compromise GOP budget is likely to be overwhelmingly unpopular. Which, again, is why Biden's hand in this poker game is so much better than what McCarthy has been dealt.

It is also why McCarthy's "threat" today, of: "If you don't sit down and negotiate, we'll just go ahead and pass our budget without you!" should evoke nothing short of derisive laughter, from both the Democrats and the political press. It is nothing more than the thinnest of paper tigers. It is a threat so empty as to rival the vacuum of deep space between the stars. It is a bluff more enormous than the White Cliffs of Dover. And the only possible Democratic response is: "Go right ahead, be my guest" -- while trying to keep a straight face and avoiding bursting out in raucous laughter.

-- Chris Weigant


[Program Note: While this article was in the final stages of editing, some rather big breaking news appeared -- which, incidentally, makes me feel foolish for writing yesterday's article, since my prediction proved to be so monstrously wrong. But I had this article already written, so I decided to post it anyway and deal with the fallout in tomorrow's Friday column.]


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


10 Comments on “McCarthy Tries A Ridiculous Bluff”

  1. [1] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    “Big beautiful indictment. Biggest indictment in history. Grand jurors coming up to me, big strong jurors with tears in their eyes, saying 'sir, that was a perfect indictment!”

  2. [2] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Remember that all these nonsensical McCarthy pronouncements are aimed primarily at the Repugs that dwell in the fantasy parallel right-wrong universe, that mouth breathe inside their information silo. If his comments can fill a few independent voters, so much the better. But feeding the Trumpanzies is the primary mission at all times.

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Did I post right-wrong universe instead of right-wing universe?

    Goodness it seems my auto correct is capable of a Freudian Slip. AI is getting better and better! ;D

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    New York ftw

  5. [5] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Let the indictment landslide begin. This day may be marked as the day both Don and Ron lost their primaries. That play by the mouse was beautiful in it's execution...

  6. [6] 
    andygaus wrote:

    De Santis will come to Trump with tears in his eyes and say, "Sir, please go to New York and turn yourself in, and don't make me extradite you."

  7. [7] 
    nypoet22 wrote:
  8. [8] 
    Kick wrote:


    It is a threat so empty as to rival the vacuum of deep space between the stars.

    I'd be lying if I said I didn't think that was going in another direction. I thought you were going to say it was a "threat so empty as to rival the vacuum of deep space between"... Marjorie Taylor Greene's ears.

    I most likely was thinking that because "qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent," which translated basically means "he that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas."

    McCarthy has formed a bond with Empty Greene et alia and is coming up empty.

    So, to recap: Stupid is as stupid does. ~ Forrest Gump

  9. [9] 
    Kick wrote:



  10. [10] 
    Kick wrote:


    Did I post right-wrong universe instead of right-wing universe?

    Yes, but it fits so well.

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