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Budowsky: Debt ceiling danger a golden opportunity for McConnell, McCarthy

President Biden
Annabelle Gordon
President Biden gives remarks at the annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon in the Capitol on Friday, March 17, 2023

At this moment, I now believe the odds that President Biden and Congress fail to reach a debt ceiling agreement, leading to a default and failure of the full faith and credit of the United States, are greater than 60 percent. Inability to reach an agreement would cause a run on the banks, deep recession, stock market crash and economic catastrophe for the American and world economy. 

Here is the one and only reason: President Biden, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the current United States Senate and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) are entirely capable of reaching a debt ceiling agreement. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Republicans are not. 

McCarthy is not a Speaker in the sense of previous leaders of the House. He is the prisoner of the Donald Trump trap. He is a prisoner of a presidential campaign where the GOP candidates are consumed by taking positions that are aimed at a Republican base that has already led Republicans to lose repeated national elections. 

McCarthy is a prisoner of a recalcitrant minority of 20 or so House members who bullied him into making ludicrous concessions of the power and authority that the Speakership holds. 

He is a prisoner of moderate Republicans who deep down know they are risking their House seats but lack the toughness and courage to oppose things so many of them privately know are wrong. He is a prisoner of his own lack of political courage and toughness — the very thing that’s gotten him into the mess that now engulfs him. 

Great Speakers don’t pander. 

Average Speakers don’t pander. 

Speaker McCarthy panders regularly, to the same players who have lost election after election since 2017. 

By dramatic contrast, President Biden can be a tougher customer than some pundits realize. He is also very smart about public policy issues. He has a deep desire to seek bipartisan solutions to major issues whenever possible. He knows how to work the room and work the Congress. He is eminently capable of reaching a debt ceiling agreement in any normal climate. 

McConnell and Schumer can also be tough customers. They both understand that when great matters can either lift or threaten the nation, they become golden moments where historical bipartisanship is most urgently needed, to accomplish great deeds or avoid great disasters. I have strong confidence that McConnell, Schumer and the Senate today will reach agreement on a debt ceiling with President Biden, having spent many years working for and with major Democratic players, such as former Sens. Lloyd Bentsen (Texas) and Birch Bayh (Ind.), and Democratic House Speakers, including Tip O’Neill (Mass). 

The only problem is the current House and the current Speaker. I never believed this about any other Republican Speaker or House Republican leader in recent years. Former leaders such as Paul Ryan (Wis.), John Boehner (Ohio) and Dennis Hastert (Ill.) would all have been able to find a way to work out a debt ceiling deal. Even Newt Gingrich (Ga.) could negotiate major deals when necessary with President Clinton. 

Nothing would please me more than to be proven wrong by Speaker McCarthy. 

Make no mistake. There is not much time to reach a debt ceiling agreement — a great economic American tragedy is headed like a freight train toward our country. Time is short. The consequences of failure would be catastrophic for every American citizen: And the consequences of failure would be catastrophic for every American worker, CEO, farmer, student, stockholder, mom, dad, senior and child — including lots of Republicans.

Members of the House and Senate: Be smart. Be patriotic. Be bipartisan. If you do the right thing, you — and the nation — will be richly rewarded. If you do not, you will rue the day. 

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the House of Representatives.  

Tags Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Lloyd Bentsen

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