Biden’s age paid off in debt limit crisis

WASHINGTON — Ain’t no way to run a railroad, Congress, facing a debt limit crisis.

The United States Treasury came close to going over the edge of default — and danger lingers if Congress doesn’t act to raise the federal borrowing limit like, now.

The lesson learned: Republicans who threatened to derail the world economy are lucky to have President Joe Biden as the old pro in charge.

The president brought a steady hand and an even temperament to tough talks with hard-edged House Republicans. He found a way toward common ground to resolve a looming crisis on Wall Street and Main Street. Votes will be held in Congress this week.

In the end, Biden’s calm character saved the day for the nation’s “full faith and credit,” to quote the Constitution. The Treasury has never defaulted, but it depends upon a bipartisan consensus in Congress to raise the debt ceiling every so often.

Aging in office has a bad name, even among Biden supporters. In fact, Biden’s age, 80, actually gave him an advantage over brash Speaker Kevin McCarthy, 58, a California Republican in his fifth month on the job.

Biden’s 35 years of seasoning in the Senate gave him — and us — that rare thing lately: confidence in his experience . Consider past presidents: George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

None had Washington experience to write home about. (Obama was a freshman senator when he ran for president.)

I write from the Capitol as we enter Act III of the hullabaloo swirling around a possible Treasury default on the national debt. The deadline to avoid it is Monday, June 5.

Leading characters under the dome will have their say, speak their lines onstage on the deal Biden hammered out with McCarthy over the Memorial Day weekend.

Nobody likes it much — or should I say everybody hates it? Yet that’s a sign of a true compromise.

At noon Tuesday, a dozen members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus held a press conference outdoors to lambast the deal, which they say did not cut spending enough. Cutting $136 billion did not meet their demands.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) at his turn under the sun, said the agreement did not stop “the radical Biden agenda.”

McCarthy can afford to lose their votes on the floor. The Freedom Caucus did not show in force; two dozen members were missing from the event, suggesting the speaker may not lose them all.

Here comes the first serious test of the Speaker’s strength and standing among his narrow majority of 222 in the House of Representatives. So far, in California style, McCarthy is still up on the board in stormy surf.

Democratic progressives object to the deal’s undermining climate provisions, opening the way for a natural gas pipeline in West Virginia’s mountains, crossing streams and wetlands.

Internal Revenue Service enforcement will be scaled back slightly, over Democratic objections, who say that gives tax cheats a break. Finally, a tug of war over stricter work requirements for food stamps was won by Republicans.

Here’s the thing: Republicans weaponized the debt ceiling — usually passed in peace by both parties — to push through partisan policies that never passed through the normal channels. They took advantage of “every tool at our disposal,” as one put it, to defy a Democratic president and blue Senate.

Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic leader (N.Y.) is also new to his job and largely shut out of talks between McCarthy’s representatives and the White House.

But Jeffries kept his caucus spirits up for the trying days of May, which was probably the best he could do. He warned of fears that the most extremist members might deliberately cause a default.

Jeffries indicated most House Democrats would back up Biden. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also signaled his critical support. So the deal is likely done.

As McCarthy said, “After he (Biden) wasted time and refused to negotiate for months, we’ve come to an agreement in principle … worthy of the American people.”

Biden never stooped to slinging insults back at McCarthy. In holiday weekend photo ops, he just smiled through his sunglasses.

— — —

Jamie Stiehm may be reached at JamieStiehm.com. Follow her on Twitter @JamieStiehm. To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit creators.com.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today