Updated Apr 8, 2023 - Politics & Policy

GOP dysfunction fuels Dems' hardball budget tactics

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, wearing a blue suit, white shirt and pink tie, looks on as Majority Leader Steve Scalise speaks at a press conference.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

Democrats are digging in their heels on debt ceiling and budget talks amid reports that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is struggling to wrangle his unwieldy conference.

Why it matters: Time is running out for Congress and the White House to agree on a budget and increase the government's debt ceiling to avert a potentially catastrophic default this summer.

  • President Biden has proposed a budget, so Democrats have been holding out for Republicans to present their own detailed plan before engaging in serious negotiations.
  • Republicans are "in a hole and digging," a top House Democrat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "So why take away their shovels?"

Driving the news: The New York Times reported on Thursday that McCarthy has expressed distrust in two of his top lieutenants in the House, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Budget Committee chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas).

  • McCarthy, the Times said, has fumed about Arrington publicly floating a budget timeline that isn't compatible with his own, leading McCarthy to cast the Texan as incompetent. McCarthy's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told the Times, "I worry greatly that the dangers of slipping into default will only increase as the toxic dynamic within the House GOP gets worse day by day."

What we're hearing: The report has reassured Democrats that the Biden administration's refusal to move forward with talks before McCarthy releases a GOP budget outline is the correct approach.

  • "I think the way the president frames it is right," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a senior Budget Committee member, "I'm happy to sit down. Let's have something to talk about."
  • Schakowsky, pointing to the GOP infighting, added, "I think the reason we aren't seeing [a budget proposal] now is that [McCarthy] cannot find anything that he can put on the table where the rest of his conference nods and says, 'Okay, we're in.' "

State of play: A White House official told Axios that Biden's strategy of holding out for a "clean" debt ceiling increase and only negotiating on the budget once Republicans present a proposal remains unchanged.

  • In an earlier statement, the administration said, "President Biden has invited Republicans to come to the White House for a conversation ... as soon as they are transparent with the American people and release their own budget plan[.]"

Between the lines: Democrats plan to continue hold out, a Democratic leadership aide told Axios, because it forces Republicans to make tough decisions about what cuts to propose to balance the budget.

The big picture: Beyond legislative strategy, Democrats are relishing the opportunity to seize on the reports to push a "Republicans in disarray" message.

  • "Their dysfunction and inability to lead ... adds to the reasons why voters cannot and will not trust the House Republicans with power in 2024," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Tommy Garcia said in a statement Friday.

The bottom line: "I really don't know how this goes in the meantime," Schakowsky said. "It's really hard to figure out how the hell they're going to come out with a budget that they can actually get those votes to pass."

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