The Jerusalem Post

US debt ceiling crisis averted, but is bipartisanship still possible? - opinion

 US PRESIDENT Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy were the undisputed winners in the debt ceiling deal, says the writer. (photo credit: Leah Mills/Reuters)
US PRESIDENT Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy were the undisputed winners in the debt ceiling deal, says the writer.
(photo credit: Leah Mills/Reuters)

Bipartisan concessions from Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy averted the debt ceiling crisis, sparking anger from the extremes of both parties. Could this be a precedent?

America just survived a manufactured cliffhanger crisis that everyone, except Donald Trump and some on farthest fringes of the House Republican Party, wanted to see solved.

No one in their right mind wanted to send the US economy into default. Emphasis on “right mind.” This was a phony disaster manufactured by political extremists who were ready to hold the nation and the economy, indeed the global economy, hostage to their demands.

They had a willing, albeit unwitting, partner in nearly every media outlet, regardless of political bent. They sounded the alarm continuously, and when they lacked solid information they drenched their audiences in speculation by dubiously informed talking heads. 

The entire debt ceiling crisis was unnecessary. Republicans didn’t object to raising the lid when their party was in the White House, but this year, with narrow control of the House of Representatives and a speaker whom extremists thought they had by the short hairs, they struck.


The party’s extremists ultimately got so little to show for their plot that they were forced to switch from accusing President Joe Biden of being too senile for the job, to crying that he outsmarted them and made them look foolish.

 U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on his deal with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to raise the United States' debt ceiling at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 28, 2023 (credit: REUTERS/Julia Nikhinson)
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on his deal with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to raise the United States' debt ceiling at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 28, 2023 (credit: REUTERS/Julia Nikhinson)

They had demanded deep spending cuts in exchange for briefly lifting the ceiling until just before next year’s election, when they could take their hostage again. Driving the nation over the cliff into default was to be the road to discrediting Biden’s handling of the economy and electing one of their own. Instead, they got little in the way of cuts and extended the debt ceiling into 2025. 

(This episode is more proof of why the terrorist tactic of holding the economy and the government hostage can and should be permanently avoided by eliminating the debt ceiling.)

The players themselves, including those who really did know what was going on, were happy to exploit the public’s fear and uncertainty to enhance their bargaining positions. And there were the grifters who used the crisis to raise money to help them fight the evil they say is Washington.

Pundits, pols and assorted players went quickly from hand wringing to flag waving, declaring the 11th-hour deal – 11:59 p.m. is Washington’s traditional time for meeting deadlines – a victory for bipartisanship. And it was. Not historic, so don’t get high inhaling the fumes. But it was good.


MAGA Republicans can still thwart other moves, particularly appropriations bills needed to fund the government. This time the hostages will be agencies and programs, not the entire national economy.

The political center was victorious in the US debt ceiling crisis

Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy were the undisputed winners. As evidence, the extremists in both parties were upset about how much each gave in. 

McCarthy demonstrated more courage and skill than most gave him credit for. He was willing to stand up to his radicals, who hold a sword over his head with the threat of a motion to vacate (fire him), and he called their bluff. 

He had to rely on the Democrats to clear the bill’s procedural hurdles for floor action, and on final passage, more Democrats voted for the bill than Republicans. 

Don’t confuse the two extremes that voted against the bill. On the hard Right were the Freedom Caucus and MAGA Republicans who are election deniers and supporters of the insurrection, or, as they call it, a patriotic stroll through the Capitol. Like Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, who called the bill “a turd sandwich,” they would have let the government go into default.

On the other end, the Progressive Democrats fought hard with the White House for their programs, but largely agreed with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who said she would have voted yes “if my vote was needed to prevent a catastrophic debt default.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a Trump loyalist and a leading opponent of the deal, told an interviewer before vote that he and his “conservative colleagues… don’t feel like we should negotiate with our hostage.” Their plan was simple: send the nation over the cliff and blame Biden, with Trump cheering from the sidelines.

Gaetz and his side had an advantage. They were willing to go into default to get their demands, and they felt pretty sure the Progressives were not, and thus more likely to make concessions. It didn’t work out that way.

BIDEN WON because he validated his commitment to bipartisanship as genuine and doable. “The Center held,” said Washington Post analyst Dan Balz. “The hard Left and the hard Right were on the sidelines in dissent.”

Following House passage, Biden said, “I have been clear that the only path forward is a bipartisan compromise that can earn the support of both parties.” He can point to success with the infrastructure bill (which Trump as president announced weekly and weakly, but never produced), some modest success on gun safety, and the CHIPS act promoting semiconductor manufacturing in the US.

In his State of the Union address, Biden deftly quashed Republican talk of cutting Social Security and Medicare, which was to be a debt ceiling bargaining chip. He called them on it in front of millions of Americans on primetime television. Knowing such a move would be unpopular, McCarthy quickly began shaking his head and mouthing “no” as he sat behind the president. They’d been caught off guard and quickly surrendered.

Not bad for a guy they’ve been saying has dementia. He can still drink water with one hand. You hear that Donald and Marco Rubio?

McCarthy emerged stronger and possibly more secure. He knows it wasn’t really the “major victory” he claimed, and that he caved on most of his demands, but he also knows his troops needed to hear that. After all, a good compromise is when everyone goes home with something but not everything.

COULD THIS be a precedent? Immigration reform could be a worthy test. There are elements of national consensus once they get past the demagoguery of the extremists.

I have low expectations. McCarthy may want the cooperation to continue so he can show that he and his party can lead and produce results. But that also means he can’t do it without Democratic votes and Democratic achievements. 

Many on the MAGA right reject bipartisanship. They see it as in their best interest to block cooperation because it might mean helping Biden and his party. To them, the highest priority is denying Biden any achievement, no matter how much the country, or even the GOP, may desire it. They want to deny him any successes to take to voters next year. They prefer to be perceived as the party of ideas and solutions, and Biden as the source of obstacles and failure.

Democrats have less latitude; they need to back Biden because he is at the top of their ticket and if he goes down it increases the likelihood that they will, too.

Gaetz and his crowd have an advantage. They were willing to go into default this month to get their demands, and they felt pretty confident the progressives were not. But the Left also knows that 18 Republicans in this Congress were elected from districts won by Biden and are prime Democratic targets for turnover. 

Survival can be a strong motivator.

The writer is a Washington-based journalist, consultant and lobbyist, and a former American Israel Public Affairs Committee legislative director.