HomePoliticsDebt-ceiling crisis looms as first big test for new Democratic leader

Debt-ceiling crisis looms as first big test for new Democratic leader

Just six months into his tenure as House Minority Leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries faces a formidable challenge: selling a budget deal negotiated behind closed doors between President Biden and President Kevin McCarthy to his fellow Democrats, without much input. On your part.

Complicating matters further is the fact that, with less than a week to go before a potential default, Jeffries has no idea how many votes he might ultimately have to surrender for such a package because he hasn’t heard from Republicans about how many. defections await if a measure hits the ground.

The situation is particularly galling for Democrats because while it is far-right Republicans who have pushed the nation to the brink of default by refusing to raise the debt limit without cutting spending, they will almost certainly will oppose any final compromise. Even if Republicans reach the threshold of winning over a majority of their members for the package, it could still require the endorsement of dozens of Democrats to pass.

“House Republicans have not provided any clarity on how many votes they think they can actually produce,” Jeffries said in an interview. If Republicans have a sizable number of Democratic votes to pass the plan, she warned, they had better strike a deal with the White House on a deal that House Democrats can swallow, even if they don’t love it.

“I can say very clearly that if dozens of Democratic House votes are needed, we cannot go to extreme resolution in this case to meet the needs of right-wing ideologues,” Jeffries said.

He debt limit The impasse is the first major political fight in 20 years in which House Democrats have not been brought into the fray by someone named Pelosi. Mr. Jeffries, a 53-year-old six-term Brooklyn lawmaker, succeeded Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader since 2003 and a two-time unopposed speaker, in January. He is now experiencing something of a litmus test with the global economy and the retirement accounts of millions of Americans at stake.

Of the four congressional leaders, Jeffries has the least power, but he might also have the greatest challenge, because it’s clear that House Democrats will be essential in pushing through any debt-limit bill from their minority position in the House. . Although Jeffries has had little direct influence on the talks, McCarthy is well aware that he cannot strike a deal and expect to prevail if House Democrats reject him en masse.

With little transparency in the talks, Jeffries’s troops have grown increasingly anxious this week about the possibility of Biden reaching an unsatisfactory deal to raise the debt limit, after saying for months he would not reach a deal. . – and then ask the Democrats to adopt it.

“A lot of angst,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat. “We do not know anything”.

Progressives have signaled that they are unwilling to support any deal that cuts domestic spending or imposes stricter work requirements on public benefit programs, both central elements of a deal that White House officials and congressional Republicans have been trying to argue.

Mr. Jeffries says he remains confident that Mr. Biden will not give away the store and will emerge from talks with a deal acceptable to enough House Democrats that can pass as long as Mr. McCarthy, a California Republican, and your colleagues contribute their part.

“I have full faith in the Biden administration’s ability to lead the charge and protect Democratic values ​​and ordinary Americans,” Jeffries said. “And we will be there to support that effort as needed.”

While he’s not in the room, Mr. Jeffries is in regular conversation with the White House about what’s going on, with Jeff Zients, the White House chief of staff, serving as a major point of contact. He credited the administration for engaging with a wide range of House members to prepare them for what lies ahead.

“They have been open, honest and accessible with House Democrats across the ideological spectrum and that will serve them well at the end of the day when a resolution is reached,” he said.

House Democrats have complained that the White House, not wanting to derail the talks, has remained too quiet as McCarthy and his lieutenants have regularly met with reporters, gaining an edge on the public relations front. . Jeffries has moved to fill that void in recent days with a series of appearances that he has used to attack far-right Republicans, whom he accuses of trying to crash the economy for political reasons.

“They have decided that they can extract extreme and painful cuts that will hurt ordinary Americans or ruin the economy and benefit politically in 2024,” he said. “That is unreasonable, it is cruel, it is reckless and it is extreme. But it’s the modern Republican Party in the House of Representatives.”

Mr. Jeffries, who until now has had a working relationship with Mr. McCarthy, was not ready to extend that criticism to the speaker.

“It’s not clear to me if it includes McCarthy,” he said, referring to the group of Republicans who he believes are hoping for a politically advantageous default. “I think McCarthy has a very difficult job in terms of corralling the more extreme elements of the conference from him. But the extreme elements have said they don’t think the House Republicans should be negotiating with the hostage they’ve taken.”

As Mr. Jeffries navigates the debt limit showdown, senior House Democrats say he can tap into a reservoir of goodwill and trust from his membership.

“He’s clearly aware of these issues,” said Rep. Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the veteran lawmaker and top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. “He understands the politics of where we are, and I think there’s pretty broad support in the caucus for the position that he’s taken.”

“He answers, he answers questions and he tells you the truth,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

Mr Jeffries has a possible trick up his sleeve in case the talks collapse and a catastrophic default seems imminent. He and his team quietly prepared a special request to force a vote to increase the debt limit if all else fails. All 213 Democrats have now signed the petition, leaving them five of the 218 votes needed. As the clock ticked down this week, he intensified the call for Republicans to sign on, though there is no sign yet that they will.

Jeffries called it a chance for Republicans to prove him wrong and show that not all of them are captives of the far right.

“Unfortunately, the so-called moderates in the House Republican Conference have not shown the courage to break with the more extreme wing of their party,” he said. “Now is the time to do it.”

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