Joe Biden, Kevin McCarthy, SOTU
President Joe Biden greets Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) before the 2023 State of the Union address. Photo credit: © Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via ZUMA Press

Perhaps America can find some better, saner way to be exceptional.

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I suppose if you were to survive a hijacking at gunpoint with nothing worse than a few cuts and scrapes, maybe a missing tooth, you’d be greatly relieved.

If the political hijacking, at gunpoint, that was the debt ceiling “crisis” ends this week with congressional approval of the deal reached by negotiators for President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), much of America will be giddy with relief. 

Our 401Ks, our jobs, our global standing — all saved, at relatively minor cost. At least for most of us.

One can argue about “negotiating with terrorists,” and even nurse some serious regret that Biden didn’t reach for his 14th Amendment heater and ask McCarthy whether he was feeling lucky. But, if I’m reading the deal correctly and if it is ratified more or less intact, the Democrats should be dancing a jig in the streets of DC. And in swing states and districts across the country.

As I detailed in my last debt ceiling piece, the MAGA GOP entered the ring fists cocked for a knockout. 

First option: a roundhouse right — no deal, directly triggering a US debt default, which would sucker-punch the economy into a coma. With Biden left holding the bag because presidents are seen by American voters as bearing primary responsibility for the nation’s — and their own — economic fortunes. 

Second option: an uppercut to the chin — a deal that, hewing closely to the “Limit, Save, Grow” bill the House GOP passed last month, would cut spending so sharply as to bring on a deep recession, not to mention enrage multiple Democratic constituencies — which would work just about as well as the roundhouse, come November 2024.

Biden got what was by far the most important concession: a two-year timeframe. The long debt-ceiling window — the GOP was pushing hard for a short one — means there will not be a recurrence of this whole sorry spectacle until after the 2024 election. And it also means the Democrats can run in 2024 as the party that … will stop the madness.

So confident were some congressional MAGA heavyweights (and featherweights) that they were already doing a bit of a victory dance along the ropes, gloves raised high. But what emerged after 15 rounds of feints and jabs was a very different outcome — no knockout; a split decision at best. And, in the eyes of this judge at least, the Democrats are the clear winner.

Why? Because Biden got what was by far the most important concession: a two-year timeframe. The deal’s long debt-ceiling window — the GOP was pushing hard for a short one — means there will not be a recurrence of this whole sorry spectacle until after the 2024 election. And that means the Democrats can run in 2024 as the party that, if returned to the White House and restored to congressional majority status, will stop the madness.

Say I’m a Democrat running in one of the 40 or so tight House races that will determine control of the chamber. What’s my pitch? To the base it will be a promise to regain the progressive momentum that GOP control of the House has undermined. 

To the crucial swing voters, however, it can now be: 

We can argue over taxing and spending priorities but the Democratic Party puts the welfare of the country first and a Democratic House will never hold the economy hostage and take the nation on another such chickie run at the edge of this cliff!

Last year (2023), the Republicans demanded massive cuts to a slew of programs on which so many rely — our so-called “out-of-control discretionary spending,” which, if you check the actual numbers, has in fact fallen by 40 percent over the past 50 years as a proportion of our GDP. They didn’t care about you or the country — whose global standing and influence were damaged by their stunt — only about the rich. 

Their aim was, as always, to help the rich — who don’t need any help — and they were willing to ruin the whole economy to fulfill that aim. In fact, many of them wanted to bring the economy, and your finances, crashing down so they could run on that, on Biden’s “failure,” in this election.

Well, we didn’t let them do that to you. President Biden stood strong and prevented both a catastrophic collapse and an economic death of a thousand cuts. 

We didn’t get everything we wanted — the Republicans insisted that there be no tax increases for the super wealthy and that our program to beef up IRS enforcement against super wealthy tax cheats be cut back. They even made it harder for some who are hungry to buy food. That’s what negotiations are all about. 

But the Republicans wanted to do this all again, hold the country hostage yet again, this year (2024). And we said “No!” 

So now this election comes first, and this is your chance to say, “Let’s ditch the debt-ceiling cliff.” To say, “Let’s debate our budgets, our taxes, our priorities vigorously but honorably, with no loaded guns pointed at anyone’s head.” To say, “We’ve seen enough of this game, enough political and economic terrorism. We’re done!”

My opponent’s party had their chance; they had control of the House for the past two years. Their record speaks for itself. This critical contest here in ______ will determine what happens next. The choice is yours and it could not be more clear.

I’m no speechwriter but all the elements are there for a very persuasive case to the sane swing voter that the best, if not only, way to stay out of yet more trouble, another manufactured “crisis” in 2025, is to elect Democratic House and Senate majorities to go with, presumably, a Biden second term. And especially a House whose speaker the MAGA crazies like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) don’t have by the short hairs.

Please Donate to WhoWhatWhyOtherwise, it’ll be wash, rinse, repeat every time a Republican congressional majority is paired with a Democratic presidency: “The debt! Oh, we must deal with the debt! (But we must not remotely consider restoring pre-Trump — let alone pre-Bush or pre-Reagan — responsible tax rates on corporations and the super-rich!).” And then, when next there’s a Republican president: “Debt? What debt? More tax cuts for the rich, please!” 

Thom Hartmann offers a detailed history of the whole scheme and how it has driven both our economy and our politics since it was hatched in the Reagan years. It is downright Machiavellian. 

And, in case I haven’t made it clear, as much as this deal looks like a political win for the Democrats, it is nevertheless a moral abomination for our country, where what’s really “out of control” is not government spending but the obscene, return-of-the-Gilded-Age (on steroids) wealth gap.

Of course, the best way to stay out of future trouble would be to do away with the debt ceiling — an anachronistic figment of a First World War-triggered 1917 law entirely. (There’s good reason why, of the world’s 195 nations, only the US and Denmark have a hard debt ceiling, and Denmark’s is set high enough to avoid US-style political weaponization.) 

Without the debt ceiling, we can have sane, no-cliff’s-edge debates about taxing and spending, just like other countries do, and America can perhaps find some better, smarter way to be exceptional.

Jonathan D. Simon is a senior editor at WhoWhatWhy and author of CODE RED: Computerized Elections and the War on American Democracy.

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