White House officials have spent weeks engaged in skirmishes with House Republicans over the looming debt ceiling battle.
Those skirmishes have now expanded into an all-out war.
President Joe Biden’s economic speech in Maryland on Wednesday, which leveled a series of policy and political attacks at House Republicans, serves as a critical marker for a White House moving quickly to escalate the political pressure on House Republicans as the calendar moves closer to the deadline to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
Months of messaging and rapid response efforts to counter nascent House GOP debt limit proposals evolved this week into a full-scale effort to undercut Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s spending cut and debt ceiling proposal at the moment of its inception.
Biden’s remarks, though planned for several weeks, provided a window into the trigger for the escalation.
“Just two days ago the speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy went to Wall Street to describe the MAGA economic vision for American,” Biden said in reference to McCarthy’s speech Monday at the New York Stock Exchange.
McCarthy’s high-profile remarks, which broadly outlined the Republican push for steep spending cuts in exchange for a debt ceiling increase, set in motion the House Republican push to pass a proposal and shift the entrenched political dynamics.
“American debt is a ticking time bomb that will detonate unless we take serious, responsible action,” McCarthy said in his New York speech, which previewed a proposal that was made public Wednesday.
Biden’s remarks, at a union hall in Maryland, served as a clear response.
“Massive cuts in programs you count on,” Biden said of the outlines of McCarthy’s proposal. “The threat of defaulting on America’s debt for the first time in 230 years.”
The positions of the two sides remain unchanged – and completely incompatible. Biden and his top advisers say unequivocally they will not negotiate over a debt ceiling increase and will only accept a clean proposal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. McCarthy and House Republicans have labeled that position a non-starter and are demanding significant spending cuts in order to sign on to any increase.
The irreconcilable positions underscore the central importance of winning the political and messaging battle that is set to dramatically intensify. With no pathway to reconcile the respective positions, both sides are pointing to the political pressure – and potentially catastrophic economic consequences that would result in a failure to a find a resolution – as critical to crack their opposition.
Biden’s speech was crafted to crystallize a clear political contrast and detail the legislative wins of Biden’s first two years in office and his agenda’s priorities for the years ahead.
But the speech was also tailored to directly attack McCarthy and the broad outlines of the California Republican’s forthcoming proposal at the same moment behind the scenes efforts to keep Democrats unified and escalate outside pressure.
“Folks, it’s the same old trickle-down dressed up in MAGA clothing,” Biden said of McCarthy’s proposal in his remarks. “Only worse.”
White House officials quietly circulated messaging and polling memos touting Biden’s budget and tax proposal earlier this week. Biden spoke by phone with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries Tuesday in what people familiar with the call framed as a discussion that was equal parts ensuring total alignment and mapping out the policy and political strategy ahead.
“President Biden, Leader Schumer, and Leader Jeffries agree that we won’t negotiate over default and Republicans should pass a clean bill like they did three times in the previous administration,” the White House said in a readout of the call Tuesday night.
Outside advocacy groups aligned with the White House are also set to ramp up their efforts to highlight Biden’s agenda while attacking the outlines of McCarthy’s proposal.
The tightly coordinated messaging and political escalation reflects a deadline that is growing closer, officials said. But it also underscores an understanding that McCarthy and his leadership team face their own critical intraparty moment as they attempt to coalesce around their own proposal ahead of a vote next week.
That House Republican plan, should McCarthy whip the votes to pass it, is dead on arrival in the Senate. White House officials view the proposal less as a tangible way to shift the entrenched political dynamics and more as an opportunity to launch a whole new array of policy attacks, officials say.
Republicans have made clear, however, they view the opposite as true. A House-passed bill should force Biden to the table and serve as a demonstration of Republican unity and resolve.
“President Biden and Senator Schumer have no right to play politics with the debt ceiling,” McCarthy said on the House floor Wednesday, calling on Biden and Democrats to enter negotiations.
McCarthy has insisted he can marshal the votes to pass his proposal. White House officials have privately been skeptical that’s the case given the fractious dynamics of the conference.
But at a critical moment in a fight that is set to envelope Washington in the months ahead, White House officials are intent on making McCarthy’s job as difficult as possible.
“The American people should know about the competing economic visions of the country that are really at stake right now,” Biden said.