There has been much debate over the past few days about who, in fact, was the big winner in the phony-but-ultimately-dangerous debt ceiling fight that would nearly — but somehow didn’t — crash the world economy.
You could say the winner was Speaker-for-now Kevin McCarthy, who stared down the House crazies to get the bill passed and survived. Or Joe Biden, who clearly didn’t trip on this one, for seeing that the long-believed-to-be-extinct bipartisan agreement was only nearly dead. Or, I don’t know, maybe the American people, or at least those Americans who don’t necessarily rely on food stamps.
We’ll get back to that in a minute.
But first, let’s go to the big loser, because there’s no real dispute here. It has to be,by unanimous decision, Colorado’s own Lauren Boebert.
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It’s not because the bill passed against Boebert’s wishes. Sure, Boebert was on the losing end of the fight, as she so often is, but so were most of the House extremists, not to mention other various pro-defaulters, like Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump, Tim Scott and much of the GOP presidential field, Sean Hannity and much of Fox News world and, for that matter, anyone else who believed the disastrous debt ceiling/hostage-taking scheme would result in rolling back the entire Biden agenda.
That’s where we are in America today. But our question for today is where Boebert was.
Because Boebert, as you know, didn’t vote against the bill. That’s because she missed the vote altogether. It’s a mystery why she was a no-show. It’s a mystery only because Boebert has declined to explain how she could miss a House vote on a bill that she had loudly maintained would push America over a financial cliff.
“Once we fall off that cliff,” Boebert had tweeted, “there’s no going back.”
Well, she was close. For Boebert, there was just no going.
It was a now-disgraced movie director/actor/writer/possible child molester who probably first said that “90% of success is just showing up.” By that reasoning, 90% of failure would be missing a critical House vote, especially when a huge percentage of your job is, you know, just being there.
People do miss votes. Dianne Feinstein and Mitch McConnell have both missed a lot of votes this year, but they were hospitalized at the time. As far as I know, Boebert didn’t have a doctor’s note.
Could Boebert have been polishing her guns for the next family Christmas card? Was she on another 911 call? Was she busily debating the merits of the bill with her old buddy Marjorie Taylor Greene, who called it a “s**t sandwich,” but who voted for it anyway as a not-so-yummy favor to Greene’s new buddy, Speaker McCarthy?
Boebert wasn’t saying, although Axios reported she was seen running up the Capitol steps when the voting closed. If there’s video, that could be a surefire campaign ad for Adam Frisch, the Democrat who very nearly upset Boebert in her reelection run last year.
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Boebert’s no-show left Ken Buck as the only Colorado representative to vote against the bill. All the state’s Democrats voted for it, as did Republican Doug Lamborn. Of course, Buck has voted against every bill to raise the debt ceiling — a vote that allows Congress to pay its bills for stuff it has already purchased — since he has been in Congress. So we couldn’t have really expected anything else.
But you might give Buck credit — I’m sure Boebert would, if maybe in absentia — for giving a series of interviews to say that McCarthy, in negotiating this bill, had gone back on his word from the time of his marathon election as speaker and that the speaker might just be facing a coup.
In an interview on Newsmax, Buck said that people were already calling for McCarthy’s head. On Fox News, he compared McCarthy to the captain of the Titanic running into the iceberg, which might be a cliché, but at least he was there on time to deliver it. On CNN, Buck said House Republicans who voted against the bill — presumably including those who called the bill a “betrayal” — might be willing to vote for a “motion to vacate,” and to “stay tuned.”
Of course, the motion to vacate allows any House member to call for the speaker to be removed and to receive a vote. It was one of the things that McCarthy agreed to in order to finally win as speaker. But I wouldn’t count on McCarthy losing his job. Not yet, anyway.
According to the Washington Post, Buck was among those also saying it might be premature to consider ousting the speaker. Is that enough to make McCarthy a winner?
As I said, he survived. So, yeah. He survived, in part, by insisting he had won, telling his skeptical caucus that the bill produced “the largest savings in American history.” It did not. It produced almost no significant savings, beyond a few cruelly gratuitous swipes at the safety net — making it more difficult for some people to qualify for food assistance is just one example — and a $20 billion give-back on the $80 billion that was supposed to go to the IRS. He won because the Democrats, back when they were in control of both houses of Congress, passed up the chance to get rid of the debt ceiling forever.
If Biden hadn’t been forced to negotiate, he wouldn’t have had to give Sen. Joe Manchin — of his own party, sort of — a pipeline that environmentalists strongly oppose.
In the end, though, the bill did produce, with more Democratic votes than Republican, an easy House victory, nearly as easy as the Nuggets’ win over the Miami Heat Thursday night. Not that I’m comparing McCarthy to Nikola Jokić, but both did come out on the winning side.
Meanwhile, Biden won by saying the word “bipartisan” so many times that you couldn’t hear anything else. He won, even though he had insisted for months that he would not negotiate with Republicans on the debt ceiling. He won, as the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake pointed out, by pretending to be the “owned lib” so that McCarthy didn’t have to admit Republicans might have lost, meaning there was an actual chance to make a deal.
Biden played it smart. Still, he had no choice but to negotiate, particularly once GOP presidential candidates started lining up to say they were actually prepared to default on America’s debt. Fortunately, McCarthy apparently saw he didn’t have much choice either, and so here we are, with a bill that saved the country’s economy and gave Biden a two-year runway — in other words, well past his reelection run — without a debt ceiling fight.
We probably shouldn’t be surprised at the outcome. After all, the United States has never voted to default on its debts. And yet, I wish I could say — but I can’t — I was 90% sure that a certain Colorado congressional no-show would never get another shot at it.
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