Discover more from Letters from an American
March 28, 2023
Today, House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) sent a letter to President Joe Biden accusing him of being “missing in action” on efforts to address the approaching debt ceiling crisis. McCarthy accused Biden of “putting an already fragile economy in jeopardy” and tried to portray himself as the reasonable party, trying to negotiate “what is best for the American people.”
It was a simply astonishing document, brazen in its suggestion that it is Biden who is taking an “extreme position” on the debt ceiling when in fact it is the Republicans who are threatening to destroy the world’s economy to get their way. They are insisting they will hold the debt ceiling hostage to force a wide range of spending cuts, and also to push policies like easier access to drilling permits.
Once again, the debt ceiling is not about future spending. It’s about meeting the obligations past Congresses have incurred. And a great deal of that debt was incurred during the Trump administration, in large part from the 2017 tax cuts that the Congressional Budget Office estimated would cost almost $2 trillion over 11 years.
Congress voted to increase the debt ceiling three times during the Trump administration. Biden had been clear that he expects it to do so again; he will not negotiate over paying the nation’s bills.
But, as part of the normal budget process, he has also been clear that he is more than happy—eager, even—to debate budget proposals with the Republicans. Biden produced a budget on March 9 and has said that he will enter into negotiations just as soon as the Republicans produce a budget proposal of their own.
But this they cannot do. McCarthy has promised dramatic cuts to the budget that he cannot deliver without cutting Social Security and Medicare, which the Republicans have agreed not to cut. At the same time, House Republicans have vowed to get rid of the provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act that fund the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), invest in addressing climate change, establish a minimum tax on the wealthy, and give the government the power to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, provisions that the Committee for a Responsible Budget projects will save the government almost $2 trillion over 2 decades.
And so, McCarthy published a letter trying to blame Biden for the mess the House speaker is in.
Biden responded immediately to McCarthy’s extraordinary public letter with one of his own, thanking the speaker for his communication and reiterating that Congress has always increased the debt ceiling without conditions and should “act quickly to do so now.”
“We can agree,” he wrote, “that an unprecedented default would inflict needless economic pain on hard-working Americans and that the American people have no interest in brinksmanship. That is why House Democrats joined with House Republicans and voted to avoid default throughout the Trump Administration—without conditions, despite disagreements about budget priorities. That same standard should apply today.”
Biden noted that he had already provided the American people with his own detailed budget, one that would reduce the deficit by nearly $3 trillion over ten years by increasing taxes on the wealthy and on corporations, cutting subsidies for the oil and gas industries, and expanding the list of drugs over which Medicare can negotiate with pharmaceutical companies. “My proposals enable us to lower costs for families and invest in our economic growth, all while reducing the deficit,” Biden wrote.
“Unfortunately,” he continued, the Republicans' proposals would “exacerbate the debt problem I inherited by adding over $3 trillion” with more tax cuts “skewed to the same constituencies who should be paying more, like multinational corporations and the richest taxpayers.” He urged McCarthy, once again, to produce a detailed budget plan rather than vague calls for savings, “so we can understand the full, combined impact on the deficit, the economy, and American families.”
Biden asked McCarthy to produce a Republican budget plan before Congress’s Easter recess “so that we can have an in-depth conversation when you return. As I have repeatedly said, that conversation must be separate from prompt action on the Congress’ basic obligation to pay the Nation’s bills and avoid economic catastrophe.”
Republicans are using similar brinksmanship with regard to the military to push their extremist agenda.
Back in July, just after the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Pentagon officials warned the House Armed Services Committee that the abortion restrictions promptly imposed by Republican-dominated legislatures were adding to the military’s recruiting crisis by creating new family planning problems for military families. More than 100 military installations with about 240,000 service members are located in states that have total abortion bans, and Gil Cisneros, the Pentagon’s chief of personnel and readiness, warned that the new laws would hurt recruiting and that service members would leave the military rather than continue to live in those states.
In February, the military launched a policy permitting military personnel up to three weeks’ leave and reimbursement for travel expenses to go to a state that permits abortion care and fertility treatments. Those rules went into effect this month.
Now, Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) is refusing to permit senior military promotions—at this point 160 of them—in protest of the military’s rules covering reproductive health care. “You all have the American taxpayer on the hook to pay for travel and time off for elective abortions,” Tuberville said to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin today as he spoke before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “And you did not make this [policy] with anybody in this room or Congress taking a vote.”
Austin responded that women make up almost 20% of the military and about 80,000 are stationed in states that don’t have access to abortion (and men want to plan their families as well). Tuberville’s hold on promotions means that senior officials cannot rotate into new positions, leaving the military without leaders in places like the Navy’s 5th Fleet, which oversees military operations in the Middle East and which is due for a new leader within the next few months. Those holes will become worse over the next several months as key military leaders are set to retire or rotate out of their posts.
Austin warned that Tuberville’s stance affects military readiness, and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that Tuberville’s brinksmanship with the military risks “permanently politicizing the confirmation of military personnel…. If every single one of us objected to the promotion of military personnel whenever we feel passionately or strongly about an issue, our military would simply grind to a halt,” Schumer pointed out.
Tuberville says he will not stop his objections until the abortion policy is ended.