The U.S. Capitol Building on June 1, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Put your hands together for sane mature bipartisan centrist adulthood. It’s a whole lot better than apocalyptic bluster.
When something good happens in Washington, we should pause to savor it. Case in point is the debt ceiling deal, forged by political foes Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy, to safeguard the American economy and the global market. Neither side got everything it wanted, but that’s what compromise governing is all about.
The most vocal critics, mostly on the right but with some on the left, are now free to flap their gums about how McCarthy supposedly gave away too much to Biden (Texas Rep. Chip Roy called it a “turd sandwich”), or about how Biden supposedly gave away too much to McCarthy. Whatever. I’ll go with House Democratic (minority) leader Hakeem Jeffries, who framed the fundamental truth: “In divided government, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
That’s how it’s supposed to work.
As presidential historian Douglas Brinkley put it, “Both sides were initially sounding very ardent about an inflexible position. Yet both sides ultimately blinked – and that’s what American politic is all about.” Faced with the very real prospect of sinking the economy and screwing the finances of untold millions of Americans, most House members decided that the best and only course of action was to behave like adults.
I know, that shouldn’t be too much to ask. But mere weeks ago it looked like the crazies – most notably, the so-called “Freedom” Caucus, egged on by the criminal defendant/convicted sex abuser in Mar-a-Lago – were behind the wheel and driving us toward the cliff. But in the end, House Speaker McCarthy got the best deal he could (modest spending cuts) from a Democratic president with a Democratic Senate waiting in the wings.
“Is it everything I wanted? No,” McCarthy said. “But… I think we did pretty dang good for the American public.”
As for Biden, it’s another chapter of Dark Brandon Strikes Again. He campaigned in 2020 on his insistence that bipartisanship wasn’t dead, that his long D.C. experience would pay off at the bargaining table. For that he was widely mocked. But the debt deal he negotiated is merely the latest in his string of bipartisan triumphs.
Two-thirds of the House Republicans and nearly three-fourths of the House Democrats voted for the deal – which includes an agreement not to revisit this debt ceiling nonsense for at least another two years. The Senate followed suit last Thursday night, sending the bill to Biden for his signature.
Veteran Republican strategist Stuart Stevens probably said it best last week: “What impresses me most about Biden & team, he’s the first president who has to negotiate with a party that asserts he isn’t a legally elected president. How do you negotiate with people who claim you are an illegal occupier of office? But they still get s–t done.”
In this case, the deal essentially leaves Biden’s policy achievements (the Inflation Reduction Act, the Infrastructure Act, student loan cancellations) fully intact.
Best of all, one particular extremist has been left virtually tongue-tied. A few weeks ago, when right-wing posturing was at its peak, Trump railed that Republicans should drive us into default if they didn’t get “EVERYTHING THEY WANT (Including the kitchen sink).” But earlier this week, in his first comments on the deal, amidst clear evidence that most Republicans had ignored his wisdom, he told an Iowa radio station: “Well, it is what it is.”
Yes, the adults in the room trumped the troll on the fringe. That alone makes the deal worth savoring.
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