Is it the Biden standard? Or the Republican default on America?
Even as negotiators press ahead with negotiations to resolve the federal debt ceiling standoff, members of both parties position themselves to seek to avoid blame for the economic fallout if things go wrong. Democrats berate Republicans for holding the debt ceiling hostage to placate “extreme MAGA” conservatives bent on cutting government spending. Republicans accuse Democrats of waiting too long to start talks and of not taking the GOP’s demands seriously.
But deep down — and in some cases not so deep — officials from both parties know that if they don’t get a deal, the government defaults, and Americans lose money, jobs and confidence in their financial well-being, they will all pay up.
“I would hate to be the politician who tries to tell people when the economy is down the toilet that it’s not my fault, it’s their fault,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican. “Yeah, that won’t work. They will flush us all out.”
Polls have shown Mr Graham’s view to be correct. A Washington Post and ABC News poll released earlier this month shows the public is divided about who will bear the blame, with a significant proportion of independents believing both sides should share the blame.
And some on Capitol Hill say the political backlash will be well-deserved if Congress and the White House succeed in wrecking the situation enough to throw officials into an entirely avoidable crisis and destroy both the economy and the retirement accounts of shake millions of Americans.
“I cannot understand that anyone who was able to prevent such great damage to our country, our economy and our standing in the world would allow this to happen,” said Senator Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat one of them was He urged his party to start negotiations earlier. “It would be absolutely reprehensible. Everyone should be pounded.”
But those likely reverberations have not yet motivated negotiators to reach an agreement and pave the way for an economic sigh of relief. Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, who is responsible for the House Republican talks, abruptly pulled out of a negotiation session with government officials in the Capitol on Friday, accusing them of being “unreasonable,” prompting the talks to be temporarily suspended. Suddenly, the road to a quick deal that spokesman Kevin McCarthy had seen Thursday was once again strewn with obstacles. Talks resumed that evening.
Such ups and downs in budget negotiations are fairly normal and can be both performative and substantive. Both sides will have to work hard to show their respective forces that they’re going to stick it out and try whatever they can get. But there are real differences in the positions of Democrats and Republicans on a variety of issues on the negotiating table. A positive outcome is not a certainty, despite regular high-level assurances that the United States will not default and default in the coming days.
However, should that happen, legislators and administrators want you to know they didn’t do it.
“Here we are on the verge of a Biden default,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican, said both in person and in a press release this week, ringing out a refrain that is gaining popularity among Republicans — that this is all Mr. Biden said he did so because he refused to get in touch with them sooner and give them enough time to work out an agreement.
Not so, counter the Democrats. “We are in the midst of a Republican-induced default crisis because the Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted to hold our economy, our small businesses, and everyday Americans hostage to improper ransom demands,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York and of the minority leaders, said.
Republicans have a reply. They argue that since they passed legislation last month through the House of Representatives that would raise the debt ceiling and impose spending cuts, they have the right to brag about it and are protected from any criticism because they are the only ones who have acted so far – although to a large extent knew that the bill would never pass the Senate with a Democratic majority.
“I don’t know about us if we raise the debt limit,” McCarthy said at the White House when asked if he was willing to face the consequences of a default. His colleagues share his view.
“In my county, I don’t think it would be a big problem,” said Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican. “I voted to raise the debt ceiling. Show me a person on the other side who did this.”
Moreover, Republicans know that traditionally, even when the circumstances are well beyond the executive branch’s control, it is the president who bears the blame for the state of the economy.
Democrats scoff at Republican claims. Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat and Majority Leader, dubbed the House legislation the Default on America Act to capture both its impact and its status as dead on arrival in the Senate. He and his fellow Democrats say they refuse to reward Republicans for what they see as highly irresponsible actions that endanger the country’s economy — although both parties have used the debt limit as bargaining chips over the years.
“From the beginning, Democrats have said — I have said — that this process requires bipartisan cooperation,” Schumer said this week. “This is how we avoided a default under President Trump. This is how we avoided a default under President Biden, and this is how we should avoid it this time as well. Risk-taking, hiding plans, hostage-taking – none of this will get us any closer to a solution.”
The two parties can continue to exchange powers. But until they exchange negotiating positions on which they can agree, the threat of a default looms over Washington and the nation. And when that happens, those involved may find that the public will not discern who did or say what when, but will hold them all accountable.