Media’s Coverage of the Debt-Limit Fight Is Intolerably Dishonest
Media always covers negotiations over spending as if the organic center, the endpoint, the only reasonable place to be, stands wherever Democrats happen to reside.
President Joe Biden, writes Politico’s White House Bureau Chief Jonathan Lemire, “has prioritized deal-making throughout the debt ceiling talks. But with GOP obstinate, Biden is changing tactics.”
What in the hell is he talking about, you may wonder. Only last month, Lemaire’s publication reported that Biden was “happy to meet” with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy but “not on whether or not the debt limit gets extended. That’s not negotiable.” (Italics mine.) That doesn’t sound like someone who’s “prioritized deal-making” on the debt ceiling. Back in January, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was unequivocal in saying that “we will not be doing any negotiation over the debt ceiling.” On April 27, the Washington Post reported, “White House reiterates refusal to negotiate on debt limit as pressure mounts.”
Biden’s position was widely known and defended. A slew of columns from Democrats like Dan Pfeiffer, an adviser to former President Barack Obama, laid out why Biden shouldn’t negotiate with McCarthy. Lefty reporter Ronald Brownstein attempted to rationalize the “logic behind Biden’s refusal to negotiate the debt ceiling” — which, not that long ago, was called “obstructionism” or “nihilism.”
Back in February, it was McCarthy who invited Biden to sit down. The president kept promising he would not negotiate, presumably to apply pressure by scaremongering voters about a potentially ruinous default. And that was Biden’s prerogative. However, the idea, as Lemire would have you believe, that the president has shown a “reluctance to play hardball” is a complete myth. Biden is no Henry Clay. This is a president who’s shown no qualms about abusing executive power — even now, threatening an unconstitutional plan to use the 14th Amendment to pay off debt. This is a president who recently crammed through the most expensive reform bill in history, using reconciliation and without a single vote from Republicans.
Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer gambled that Republicans would never unify around a debt-ceiling hike. Schumer kept snarkily demanding McCarthy show the public his plans. House Republicans did — one that “slashes” spending all the way back to 2022 levels and then allows 1% increases per year moving forward. Everyone on the left, which is to say most people in political journalism, keep framing the debate as if this never happened.
So, while we can’t bore into the souls of the participants and expose their true feeling about a potential default, the fact is that the only people in that entire conversation who have already passed a hike to the debt limit are House Republicans. Democrats could just sign off on it if they wanted. No default.
No one, of course, expects Democrats to unilaterally surrender. But media always covers negotiations over spending as if the organic center, the endpoint, the only reasonable place to be, stands not between the desires of two competing political parties or two competing branches of government but rather wherever Democrats happen to reside. One side is trying to save the nation from default and economic ruin; the other is a reckless “hostage taker” intent on rolling back progress.
Just ask Jeff Stein, the Washington Post econ reporter, who notes that progressives and Democrats are concerned about a “Biden-McCarthy deal that they fear rewards the GOP for taking the debt limit hostage.” Or even better, “‘Debt-Limit Terror’ Is No Way to Run a Superpower,” says Susan Glasser.
The ceiling, quite self-evidently, was passed to control government debt. That’s why it exists. Those who demand reforms are no more taking hostages than those who demand unfettered spending. The left proposes raising a bunch of taxes. The right proposes rolling back spending to levels from a year ago. Reasonable people can disagree about who’s right. Yet, the default position of the Washington press corps seems to be that anything other than an automatic hike — a “clean” bill — is some kind of attack on democracy.
Unlike many reporters, Lemire at least acknowledges, however begrudgingly, that Republicans have already hiked the debt ceiling. “McCarthy,” he notes, “managed to narrowly pass his GOP spending bill in late April” — as if everything in D.C., including the massive “Inflation Reduction Act,” weren’t “narrowly” passed. The rest of the piece, like so many others, is strewn with mythology — "Biden and his team had been buoyed by their belief that a consensus building approach" are words that appear in this piece. All of it is so lazy and transparent, and insufferable.
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