More Democrats than Republicans voted for the Biden-McCarthy deal. Here’s why.
By Harold Meyerson
JUNE 1, 2023 - There are nine more Republicans in the House of Representatives than there are Democrats, but last night, there were 16 more Democrats who voted for the debt ceiling deal than there were Republicans. Seventy-eight percent of House Democrats voted to pass it, while just 68 percent of the Republicans did.
Of the many ways to look at this disparity, let’s start with this one: The deal did far less than the Democrats had feared, while, correspondingly, it did far less than the Republicans had hoped.
Perhaps the more historically illuminating contrast, though, is that between where the Democrats were at during the last debt ceiling deal, in 2011, and where they’re at today. The 2011 deal was an economic disaster that Democrats joined Republicans in abetting. Despite unemployment having only inched down from its double-digit 2009 apogee, the Obama administration had become committed to debt reduction, and came to agreement with Republicans on a deal that mandated cutting close to a trillion dollars over the next ten years. The deal ensured that the recovery from the 2008 financial crash would proceed by dribs and drabs, condemning millennials, in particular, to stumble through the decade with far less purchasing power and life options than their elders had when they were young.
And yet, it was the political pushback from the young that prompted the Democrats’ escape from the straitjacket of fiscal orthodoxy. It provided a forum for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to call for new versions of New Deal economics, a call to which Biden and most congressional Democrats responded by backing the neo-Rooseveltian Build Back Better bill and, when they couldn’t pass that, at least passing massive public investments in green energy production and infrastructure construction.
Which is why Biden’s approach to the Republicans’ demands was nothing like Obama’s. Instead of a decade of cuts, the current deal goes for just two years, at a vastly smaller dollar amount. That creates the possibility that should the Democrats hold the White House and Senate in 2024 and win back the House, they can (and surely will) return to the still-to-be-enacted agenda of 2021, on which they will be campaigning next year as well (with the signal addition of national legislation re-legalizing abortion).
Biden and the Dems will still have to put the concessions made in yesterday’s deal into a broader context if they’re to hold the party’s progressive base. The Pipeline Payoff to Joe Manchin can be justified to those who pay attention to such things as a key to helping the Democrats hold on to their Senate majority in the next election, but to the majority of voters who aren’t political junkies, that will fall flat. A more effective case is to acknowledge it was a noxious deal, but when put against Biden’s overall climate-related record—in particular, the new spending on green energy—it is a fetid but small potato. Unfortunately, Biden has little if any rhetorical capacity to articulate how transformative his achievements have been, which just makes surrenders and shortcomings like the Manchin deal stand out all the more.
My sense is that all the Democrats who voted last night—the Againsts as well as the Fors—felt some level of relief that the concessions were markedly short of what they could have been, and that the default was being avoided. My sense is also that all the Republicans who voted last night felt a corresponding frustration that they had labored so loudly and brought forth such a mouse. That may begin to explain why there were fewer Republican yes votes than Democratic ones last night; the other reasons—gerrymandered districts, right-wing media, white straight male Christian nationalist panic, [your suggestion here]—await further elucidation. ...Read More
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