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The debt ceiling battle begins
The biggest political fight of the year is officially underway
Yesterday afternoon, I was on the House floor intently watching the vote count for the biggest vote of the year so far.
You get five minutes to cast your vote and the voting machines are spread throughout the chamber, so members tend to clump around them and wait in line to press the red button or the green button.
Then you usually step into the aisle and look up at the big board with every member’s name and make sure your vote was recorded by spotting the little red or green circle next to your name.
After that, members will often head into the cloakroom that’s just off the floor and wait for the next vote.
But because this was a big vote - and the outcome was uncertain - most members stayed on the floor and watched the count. And that’s what I did.
As the minutes ticked down, it was clear this was going to be exceptionally close. If Democrats vote together - as they did on this - Republicans can only lose five votes.
With 30 seconds left, they had lost four. It looked like it might actually fail.
Then, at the last moment, Rep. George Santos emerged from the Republican cloakroom, cast the deciding vote, and the bill passed.
The Republicans cheered loudly.
And with that, the biggest political battle of the year officially began.
Speaker McCarthy has now made his first move with respect to the debt ceiling.
The bill that passed yesterday would raise the debt ceiling, but it would also force a range of steep budget cuts. It won’t pass the Senate, but it does put the ball in the Senate’s court to now provide their version of a solution.
(As a quick reminder, we have to lift the debt ceiling within the next few months or we’ll default, which would likely lead to a severe recession - and perhaps far worse. We’ve raised the debt ceiling roughly 50 times during my life, including three times during the last presidency. It used to be uneventful but now it’s routinely used as a point of leverage to try and force budget cuts.)
There are lots of different ways to think about this ordeal, but the simplest might be this:
Ultimately, the debt ceiling saga is about one man trying to keep his job.
If you assume that Speaker McCarthy’s prime directive is to remain speaker, then everything else falls into place.
My sense is that there could be lots of bipartisan deals that would lift the debt ceiling. One was offered last week, and I expect that if we kicked the tires around here we could drum up several more.
What’s hard is finding a bipartisan solution that won’t end McCarthy’s speakership by causing a revolt from his right-flank.
The math here is simple.
If McCarthy loses five votes from his party, he loses his speakership.
But he’s got roughly 30 members in his right-flank. So they control his fate.
Which means if McCarthy calls a vote for a bipartisan solution that his right-flank doesn’t like - which is ultimately how this whole thing has to end - then it may pass without their votes, but there’s a real chance that they’ll immediately turn around and retaliate by stripping McCarthy of his speakership.
So the real balancing act that McCarthy is attempting is about finding the circumstances under which his right-flank will allow him to strike a deal that won’t anger them to the point of retaliation.
And it’s genuinely not clear whether that possibility exists, which is the big concern.
The chance of default goes way up if McCarthy decides there’s no way to support a bipartisan deal and keep his speakership.
Simple: He really, really wants to remain speaker.
Also this week
The debt ceiling is the main event, but for a freshman member of the minority party, it won’t be my main event.
The two big things I’m preparing for this week are a classified briefing with the Armed Services Committee and a NASA budget hearing with the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
As an aside, I’m really looking forward to updating you about what’s going on over at NASA. I’m on the Space Subcommittee and it’s given me a window into some extraordinary work being done in the field of space exploration. I’m working on a more complete update for you on that front.
One more thing
My email last week was about my observation that a lot of the angriest voices you hear from Congress are faking. We also put it out as a video across a number of social media platforms.
It received an incredibly strong response, with over 10 million views across platforms. I note that just as encouragement to all of you who read these updates and wish that more people wanted a more substantive approach to politics. They do! We’ve just been talking down to people for so long that lots of folks in politics have started to believe that’s what people actually want, when it’s plainly not.
You are right to expect more, and the vast majority of Americans are right there with you.