Budget Talks Seem To Go Well

[ Posted Tuesday, May 16th, 2023 – 15:38 UTC ]

May is half over. June looms.

That is where we are, as President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy try to hammer out some sort of deal which will allow the nation not to default on its debt. Nobody's really sure if June first will actually be the deadline -- the "drop-dead date" is constantly in flux as money comes into government coffers and flows back out again. If we make it to mid-June, the drop-dead date could shift as late as August or September, for instance. But we can't count on that happening -- we must act before the earliest possible date it could happen, which is the first of next month.

There was a big meeting today between Biden and McCarthy and the other three congressional leaders (Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, and the most significant thing that appears to have been decided is that the other three will largely bow out of the final negotiations and leave it to staffers from Biden and McCarthy to finalize a deal. That is progress, of a sort, since such negotiations will be easier between only two parties.

It sounds like at least the outlines of a deal are coming into focus, although there is one remaining large sticking point that both sides seem to be drawing red lines on -- adding work requirements to federal programs (which would really be "expanding work requirements," since they already exist). Putting that aside, it seems that much has been at least tentatively agreed to already.

McCarthy has already scored one victory, in even getting Biden to the deal-making table. Biden still is trying to maintain the fiction that they're all just talking about the budget, and that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the debt ceiling, but that is mere face-saving. Biden is indeed negotiating with the hostage-takers, which sets a bad precedent, but one he might have avoided if he had acted in the first two years of his term to eliminate the debt ceiling entirely.

McCarthy is also holding firm on refusing to agree to any tax revenue in the deal. Biden has reportedly proposed closing some tax loopholes (such as cryptocurrency rules) but McCarthy won't agree to any of it.

But Biden has had his wins too, at least if the reporting is accurate. He is pushing for an agreement that might set the budget limits for the next two years and kick the debt ceiling past the 2024 election as well. Republicans had initially demanded only one year be agreed to, so this is a big win for Democrats. After all, having to do this all over again during the primary season next year would have been problematic (to say the least).

Biden has also apparently gotten McCarthy to drop his demand to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, which is one of Biden's signature pieces of legislation. That's a big win for him, obviously. Republicans are also having to accept that they're not going to get to impose 20-percent cuts across the board on the budget. They'll have to scale back those expectations significantly -- another victory for Biden.

McCarthy scored a victory on everyone agreeing that the final negotiations will be only between his team and Biden's. McCarthy had been demanding such bilateral talks all along, so this was a clear win for him, politically.

Even with all this (possibly) accomplished, sticking points still do remain. McCarthy is proposing a 10-year budget agreement to slash spending, while Biden is only so far looking at a 2-year agreement. And on the issue of work requirements, both sides seem to be digging in to their respective positions, meaning it might be the last issue to get resolved in any deal. There also may be other hurdles -- that neither side has seen fit to leak to the media yet, but which still remain undecided.

Everyone has known all along that Joe Biden was going to have to work with the House Republicans at some point to get a budget in place. Control of the lower congressional chamber means leverage over that process, obviously. But control of just one chamber while the Senate and White House are in Democratic hands also means that Republicans won't get to dictate terms -- both sides had to move in order for any compromise to emerge.

Both sides did seem to be optimistic, after meeting today. Kevin McCarthy said a deal was possible by the end of the week. Biden cut his foreign travel plans short, so he can return to Washington to finish the negotiations. All signs are currently pointing towards some sort of deal being struck, perhaps as soon as this weekend.

This is driven by the calendar, of course. June first is right around the corner, and if a deal is struck by this weekend, Congress will have just enough time to jam it through both houses before the end of the month (although their Memorial Day breaks may have to get cut short).

There's no guarantee of success. There isn't any guarantee that even if the two sides do strike a deal that it will get through either the House or the Senate -- it is very likely that some members on both sides of the aisle will be so disappointed with the deal that they vote against it. Can a bipartisan coalition get a bill through? Nobody knows, at this point. So we still could face the horrific prospect of diving off the "fiscal cliff." Biden could even be forced to resorting to some sort of gimmick or another to avoid the crisis (which would immediately be challenged in court, but might avoid an outright and immediate default). We're not out of the woods yet, folks. But today's meeting seemed to indicate there might just be a path forward to safety. It was a cautiously optimistic day, in other words.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


2 Comments on “Budget Talks Seem To Go Well”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i'll believe in it when it happens.

  2. [2] 
    andygaus wrote:

    I'm not optimistic at all. Perhaps McCarthy and Biden will reach an agreement, but the loonies running the asylum are only devoted to making the loudest noises and making everything be about them, and provoking a default will be their idea of really getting their names in the headlines.

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