“This agreement is good news for the American people,” Joe Biden said, in a short statement announcing that he and Kevin McCarthy reached a budget deal in principle.
What’s so “good” about the accord? Well, as Biden explained, “it prevents what could have been a catastrophic default [which] would have led to an economic recession, retirement accounts devastated and millions of jobs lost.”
It’s certainly good news that those things aren’t likely to happen now, or at least not as a result of an asinine dispute over an unimaginably ridiculous (not to mention completely imagined) constraint on the US Treasury’s capacity to meet America’s previously-incurred financial obligations.
But it’s good news in the same way that, after a series of tests, doctors have determined you don’t have terminal cancer after all. That’s different from, “Good news, Bill! You’re getting a 25% raise.”
Biden elaborated. “It is an important step forward that reduces spending while protecting critical programs for working people and growing the economy for everyone.” He also said White House negotiators managed to protect Democrats’ “key priorities and legislative accomplishments.”
McCarthy wasn’t gracious. “I just got off the phone with the president a bit ago. After he wasted time and refused to negotiate for months, we’ve come to an agreement in principle that is worthy of the American people,” he said, before holding a short press conference.
There’s nothing “worthy” about this situation unless you, like me, harbor a grim view of the general voting public. If you share my despairing assessment of American society, then McCarthy is absolutely correct. This charade is indeed worthy of America in 2023. You get the government you deserve, and every, single time I venture out into the real world, I’m reminded that the pitiable situation in Washington is at least faithful in one respect: It’s an accurate reflection of a lamentable electorate.
McCarthy described “historic reductions in spending” (an exaggeration, at best), “consequential reforms that’ll lift people out of poverty” (a hopelessly cynical description of the GOP’s position on underserved communities) and efforts to “rein in government overreach” (which just means that when it comes to “lifting people out of poverty,” raising taxes isn’t an avenue down which Republicans are willing to travel).
For what it’s worth (which is nothing, although I suppose preventing a self-made catastrophe is actually not nothing in the same way that avoiding a stock market crash and a depression is “good news”), the compromise freezes discretionary spending for two years in exchange for the suspension of the debt ceiling over the same period. Military and veterans’ programs are exempted.
Some recipients of government aid will be subject to new work requirements which would eventually apply up to age 54 from 49 currently. Unless extended by Congress, the change would sunset in 2030. It won’t apply to veterans or the homeless. As widely reported previously, the government will claw back unspent COVID relief funds, and new funding for the I.R.S. will be reduced. Some permitting reform for energy projects was included, but it looks to have fallen well short of Republicans’ aspirations.
Some members of the House Freedom Caucus will surely object to the deal, and it’s likely to run into at least some GOP opposition in the Senate. On the other side of the aisle, Hakeem Jeffries will hear from Progressives, but the fate of this agreement rests with Republicans.
“I know you have a lot of questions. I’m not going to take them tonight,” McCarthy told the press late Saturday. “Out of respect, I want to brief our members.”
That was apt for McCarthy. When you’re a hollow suit defined first and only by a mostly unremarkable climb up the country’s political ranks, the “respectful” thing to do when it comes to eleventh hour government decisions to avert economic calamity is snub the public, scurry back into the recently besieged Capitol and beg a handful of furious party hardliners not to hold a no confidence vote in your leadership because you weren’t willing to set the world on fire just to say you did.