Analysis | Debt doom looms

Analysis | Debt doom looms

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In today’s edition … What we’re watching: Carper’s announcement … Focus groups show a dispiriting election ahead for voters … The Republican plan to beat Tester … but first …

As debt doom looms, Biden and McCarthy will meet

After a weekend of strained talks between their negotiators, President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are set to meet today as time runs out to reach a debt limit deal — before a potentially calamitous default in as little as 10 days.

The lead negotiators on both sides met Sunday night for two and a half hours. All of them left the Capitol while saying barely a word.

Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young and top White House adviser Steve Ricchetti left, as they usually do, without speaking to reporters. Reps. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) and Garret Graves (R-La.) also left in silence.

McCarthy, who often holds court with the press after such meetings, was not there.

Biden returned Sunday night to Washington from the Group of Seven summit in Japan after cutting his trip abroad short to deal with the debt debacle. He told reporters that he spoke with McCarthy during his flight home.

“It went well, we’ll talk tomorrow,” he said.

A quick recap of the weekend that was

  • Republican demands have increased since the negotiations began in earnest last week, with far-right GOP lawmakers seeking more concessions, according to people familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private negotiations.
  • Republicans’ offer included steep nondefense discretionary spending cuts on most programs at fiscal year 2022 levels. It also included oil and gas permitting changes without the corresponding changes that Democrats are seeking for clean energy, as well as added border security provisions.
  • The White House’s offer would largely freeze discretionary spending at this year’s levels, without adjusting for inflation. Republicans rejected it, as our colleagues Jeff Stein, Tony Romm, Rachel Siegel and Marianna Sotomayor reported over the weekend.

Potentially further complicating the discussions: The House Freedom Caucus is expected to discuss a new position at its meeting tonight.

It would urge McCarthy to reject any offer from Biden unless it includes the bill House Republicans passed last month — which would roll back the president’s signature legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act — along with other demands, such as border security funding and decreased funding for the FBI.

  • “The Freedom Caucus will vote … to basically accept only what we have sent to [Biden] plus what we’re adding to it,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said in an interview Sunday.

Any deal will need the support of a coalition of lawmakers that allows it to pass each chamber.

If McCarthy loses the Freedom Caucus’s roughly three dozen members, he’ll need to win over as many Democrats to ensure the bill passes the House.

The Freedom Caucus released a statement Thursday afternoon calling for an end to negotiations until the Senate passed the House’s bill to lift the debt limit and cut government funding.

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said on Sunday that he stood by the group’s message.

  • The Freedom Caucus demands complicate the negotiations not because McCarthy needs their votes for a compromise bill but because the far-right members have kept the option of removing him as speaker if he goes against their wishes.

“I’m not going to go there because I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Norman said of the motion to vacate, i.e. try to remove McCarthy. “I don’t think [McCarthy’s] going to give in.”

Can McCarthy close a deal?

McCarthy has never negotiated a major bipartisan agreement.

Biden has negotiated several during his 50 years in Washington, including with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

But McConnell has shown no interest in inserting himself into the talks, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) can’t pass a bill without him.

House Republicans initiated this showdown by threatening a default if they don’t get the spending cuts and policy changes they want. McCarthy — who desperately wanted this job — is now under intense pressure to show he can avoid an economically damaging default and get something in return for doing so.

The mood on Capitol Hill is grim, with both Republicans and Democrats warning that a deal is unlikely.

“I’ve urged the White House to just continue to stand strong, refuse to accept a bad deal,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told us on Sunday.

  • There are three elements of a “bad deal,” she said: work requirements for safety-net programs, permitting changes that exclude clean energy and spending cuts. All three of these were in McCarthy’s most recent proposal for the White House.

Jayapal said the offer the White House made on Friday night to hold discretionary and military spending roughly flat next year was “essentially a cut” because it didn’t account for inflation.

  • Another senior Congressional Progressive Caucus member, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), said it might take an economic shock to induce Republicans to pass a “clean” debt limit bill, as Democrats have demanded for months.

“You could have a big drop in stocks,” Pocan said. “You could have some kind of a downgrading [of the federal government’s credit rating]. You could have a number of things that you’d wish we wouldn’t have to get to that might be a wake-up call.”

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, is expected to announce today whether he will seek another six-year term. Carper, 76, has served in the Senate since 2001. If he announces his retirement, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) could enter the race to succeed him.

It is a pivotal week for the 2024 presidential race. Three Republican candidates — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie — are expected to throw their hats into the ring.

The three Republicans will formally join five rivals — former president Donald Trump, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, wealthy entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and conservative radio host Larry Elder — after months of planning and speculation, making way for a crowded Republican primary.

The race has already split the Republican Party into warring factions.

  • The collapse of a years-long public alliance: DeSantis, whom the former president has repeatedly called disloyal, has been encroaching onto Trump’s base and ideological terrain. He has been courting Trump donors and supporters, visiting Trump strongholds and seeking “to make his mark on some issues closely associated with Trump,” according to our colleagues Hannah Knowles and Josh Dawsey. Trump and DeSantis are seen as the front-runners of the nominating contest.
  • South Carolina vs. South Carolina: For Haley and Scott, who is expected to kick off his campaign at a rally in Charleston today, “the long-overlapping circles of the two Republicans are coming sharply into focus — and stoking tensions in this early state where everyone knows everyone in local politics,” our colleagues Marianne LeVine and Dylan Wells write. “The two barrier-breaking Republicans climbed the state’s political ladder on parallel timelines but never had to compete for the same job — until now.”

Today is the deadline for Dallas billionaire Harlan Crow to provide the Senate Judiciary Committee with a full accounting of any gift worth more than $415 that he gave to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, any other justice or any justice’s family member. The committee’s Democrats also asked Crow to provide a full list of lodging, transportation, real estate transactions and admission to any private clubs.

Crow could decline the committee’s request in the same way he denied Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) April request for a full accounting. He cited concerns about “the scope of and authority for this inquiry,” per the May 8 letter from Crow’s lawyer, Michael D. Bopp. Wyden sent a new letter to Crow last week affirming his committee’s investigative authority on the matter and set a June 2 deadline.

The Senate is out until after Memorial Day, but it will come back if needed to pass a debt limit bill.

The House is in session this week and will vote on a bill to reverse a Biden rule on emissions standards for heavy trucks. The measure previously passed the Senate and will head to the president’s desk should the House approve it, which is expected. Biden has said he would veto the measure.

Focus groups show a dispiriting election ahead for voters

Our colleagues Michael Scherer, Emily Guskin and Scott Clement are out this morning with the results of two focus groups conducted for The Post by research firms Engagious and Sago. The participants of the focus groups include 15 swing state voters who had all voted for Trump in 2016 and then Biden in 2020.

The main takeaway: Despite dueling concerns about Biden’s age and health — as well as an aversion to another Biden-Trump rematch — voters are much more concerned about another Trump presidency. Nine of the 15 voters said they’d vote for Biden, while three said they’d vote for Trump and three said they’d find a third-party candidate or wouldn’t vote.

  • “The results suggest the possibility of a frustrating and dispiriting election season for many Americans who, like the participants in The Post groups, do not want to see either of the front-runners for the Democratic and Republican nominations as their next president,” our colleagues write.
  • “For these voters, deciding between Trump and Biden is like being forced to choose either a demolition derby car or an old clunker for a cross-country trip,” Rich Thau, moderator of the focus groups and president of Engagious, which specializes in policy message testing, told our colleagues. “With either choice, they are not particularly happy.”

The Republican plan to beat Tester

Our colleague Liz Goodwin profiled Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), a self-proclaimed “seven-fingered dirt farmer” who also happens to be one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection next year. Republicans could regain the Senate majority if they flip his seat next year. Here’s how they plan to do it:

Steve Daines, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, his longtime top aide Jason Thielman and McConnell are “working to recruit a top-flight challenger to Tester,” Liz reports. “They argue the state has changed rapidly since the last time Tester won, and their bet is that Montanans will no longer let their affection for the likable senator with a penchant for salty language override their increasing alienation from the Democratic Party.”

  • Tim Sheehy: Daines and McConnell have their eyes on Sheehy, a wealthy businessman and decorated veteran. “As a newcomer to politics, the businessman lacks political baggage and has the ability to self-fund — a key perk given Democratic Senate candidates’ fundraising advantage over Republicans in recent cycles,” Liz writes.
  • Rep. Matthew M. Rosendale (R-Mont): Rosendale lost to Tester in 2018 after the senator’s campaign dubbed him “Maryland Matt.” But he has not ruled out running again, and “would probably enjoy the backing of the conservative and anti-tax PAC Club for Growth in a primary,” Liz writes.

Wednesday marks one year since a gunman killed 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex.

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @LACaldwellDC and @theodoricmeyer.

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