What do Republicans really want from the debt ceiling negotiations?

The White House has vowed not to budge until Congress acts, but that hasn't stopped some Republican lawmakers from tossing out a few demands of their own

Sometime this coming summer, the United States is expected to reach a point where it can no longer pay off its existing loans, having already met its borrowing limit, commonly known as the debt ceiling, in mid-January. With the countdown clock ticking toward a national — and potentially international — financial crisis should the U.S. default on its loans, politicians in Washington have begun the process of negotiating a congressional measure to raise the country's borrowing limit, thereby averting an economic cataclysm. Sort of. 

For as much as the various statements might hint at a negotiation between Democratic and Republican lawmakers, the truth is that no such bargaining has actually taken place. In part, that's due to the White House's adamant position that the risk of a debt ceiling breach is of such importance that it will not negotiate with Congress at all. As Biden administration Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a recent statement: "Like the president has said many times, raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiation; it is an obligation of this country and its leaders to avoid economic chaos. Congress has always done it, and the president expects them to do their duty once again."

"That," she added, "is not negotiable." 

At its core, however, Washington is a city predicated on deal-making. For as much as the White House may be publicly committed to holding fast on its "not negotiable" line in the sand, some debt ceiling agreement will need to be struck, and it will need to be able to pass both the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate before it lands on the president's desk — no matter if that happens before or after the ceiling shatters. The problem, then, is that in spite of their demands to negotiate over raising the debt limit — as has been done without fail under both Republican and Democratic administrations since first being introduced more than a century ago — GOP lawmakers have not actually settled on what, exactly, they're willing to negotiate for

They haven't? 

Not exactly. Writing in The Washington Post, columnist Catherine Rampell notes that "Republicans have Very Serious budget demands. Unfortunately, they can't identify what any of those demands are."

"Republicans say they want lower deficits — in fact, they have pledged to balance the budget (that is, no deficit at all) within seven or 10 years," Rampell continues. "But they have not laid out any plausible mathematical path for arriving at that destination. They promise to cut 'wasteful spending' ... but can't agree on what counts as 'waste.'"

Indeed, although many individual Republican members of Congress have put forward their personal picks for what should be cut and why, the caucus as a whole is still largely unable to articulate a codified list of demands. While some have seen the threat of a debt limit crisis as a potential catalyst to cut entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare (perennial targets of GOP budget slicing), embattled House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has reportedly promised not to touch those particular programs — at least, not during these as-of-yet still theoretical debt limit negotiations.

Have they agreed on anything, then? 

One thing that the entire GOP caucus has settled on is that the looming debt ceiling crisis presents them with an opportunity — for what, exactly, is still being decided, but an opportunity no less. As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stated plainly during a press conference alongside a number of his conservative colleagues, the rules of the Republican conference require GOP members to "use the debt ceiling as leverage to force real and meaningful structural reforms to fix the underlying problem." 

Even as House Republicans struggle to figure out just how much leverage they really have, the common consensus within the caucus is that the Biden administration will have to come to the table eventually, and that the White House's "no negotiations" line is simply untenable bluster. "I know we can't ask for the moon," Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told Reuters. "But the president also can't refuse to negotiate. I mean, if he refuses to negotiate, you're not going to get any Republican support for anything."

"The point everybody is making is that the White House needs to negotiate with the speaker," Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) told the outlet. "They can't just circumvent the House of Representatives."

Where are the Democrats in all this? 

Congressional Democrats have been remarkably — albeit not entirely — consistent in their support of the Biden administration's "no negotiations" hardline for the time being. 

"There's a difference between negotiation and blackmail," newly elected Minority Speaker Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said during a press conference with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) this week. "What they're essentially saying on the other side of the aisle is, 'We will detonate Social Security, detonate Medicare, detonate veterans' benefits or possibly even risk a catastrophic default for the first time in American history. "That ain't negotiation, that's blackmail."

Sen. Angus King, the Maine Independent who caucuses with Democrats, was slightly more reserved while describing the same dynamic to The Hill: "It ought to be something that's done automatically because the stakes are so high and it's a fundamental responsibility of government. It ought to be done as a matter of routine, like turning the lights on. All we're doing is authorizing the payment of bills we've already run up."

"The problem I have with the term 'negotiation' is it implies that there has to be a quid pro quo," King added. "In this case there shouldn't have to be."

While much of the party's frustration has been aimed at Republicans, some have saved a portion of their ire for Sen. Joe Manchin, the conservative West Virginia Democrat who recently sat down with McCarthy in a sort of pre-negotiation negotiation this week, from which McCarthy's promise not to link Social Security or Medicare cuts with the debt limit emerged. 

"I think it's a mistake because we have to negotiate," Manchin told CNN's Dana Bash a few days before he and McCarthy met. "This is a democracy that we have. We have a two-party system, if you will, and we should be able to talk and find out where our differences are. And if they are irreconcilable, then you have to move on from there and let people make their decisions."

Following Manchin and McCarthy's meeting, however, Schumer rejected any value in negotiations with House Republicans until the speaker can show he has the ability to get his own caucus in line for a passable bill. "Until Speaker McCarthy has a plan and a plan that can pass in the House with his Republican support, his going to the White House is like going with no cards in his hand," Schumer told the press

"Show your own caucus the plan and see if you got the votes to pass it," he added later. 


America's most affordable cities
Harlingen, Texas.
Money file

America's most affordable cities

The end of the line for Boris Johnson?
Boris Johnson
Talking point

The end of the line for Boris Johnson?

The GOP vs. Alvin Bragg
GOP Reps Jim Jordan and James Comer
Behind the scenes

The GOP vs. Alvin Bragg

Jan. 6 rioter charged with stealing Pelosi's laptop sentenced to 3 years
Riley Williams at U.S. Capitol riot
Jan. 6 trials

Jan. 6 rioter charged with stealing Pelosi's laptop sentenced to 3 years

Most Popular

Mosquito species from South America discovered in Florida
Culex lactator.
new in town

Mosquito species from South America discovered in Florida

Essential molecules for life may have been 'delivered' to Earth from space
Asteroid Ryugu.
alien invasion

Essential molecules for life may have been 'delivered' to Earth from space

DeSantis' no good, very bad week
Ron DeSantis at a podium
Behind the scenes

DeSantis' no good, very bad week