Apr 20, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Democratic anxiety emerges over Biden's debt ceiling stance

President Biden. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA.

Some House Democrats are beginning to question President Biden's refusal to sit down with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on the debt limit.

Why it matters: It signals that House Republicans' debt ceiling bill is, at least in part, having the intended effect of serving as the GOP's starting position in debt ceiling negotiations.

  • Biden, in a speech on Wednesday reacting to the proposal, dismissed Republicans as threatening to default "unless I agree to all these wacko notions they have" to cut spending in exchange for lifting the debt limit.

Driving the news: Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) released a statement on Thursday calling for Biden to come to the table.

  • “While it is reasonable to sincerely disagree with any specific debt ceiling approach, we will achieve a historic default ... if President Biden continues to refuse to even negotiate," he said.
  • Manchin credited McCarthy with "putting forward a proposal that would prevent default and rein in federal spending," adding that while he does not agree with all of its contents, "it is the only bill actually moving through Congress that would prevent default."

What we're hearing: "I respect the White House position," Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) told Axios, "But not in perpetuity. Because negotiation, that's what this whole institution is about."

  • "I do think that the president and the speaker should always talk," said Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.). "And Joe Biden has shown over his history that he's always willing to negotiate."
  • "We're going to have to negotiate," said Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), "We obviously want to move away from just legislating by crisis ... I'm encouraging continued negotiations."
  • "There's something now to react to," Stevens said of the debt ceiling bill, "And although I don't like what I'm reacting to, I'm glad that there is something to react to."

The other side: "It’s unclear to me why we’re still waiting for Republicans to actually put their budget into the public domain — not talking points, not speeches — a budget," House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said at a press conference on Thursday.

  • "Once they have a budget, I think we’re all willing to sit down and have a conversation about spending priorities."
  • Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), the chair of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, argued that GOP efforts to roll back funds from the American Rescue Plan and Inflation Reduction Act should be non-negotiable.
  • Most Democrats who spoke to Axios were still highly critical of the bill's contents and said they would also likely vote against it when it comes to the floor.

The bottom line: Republicans have their own internal disunity to sort through as both moderate and conservative lawmakers say they are still not yet prepared to vote for the bill.

  • Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said Thursday the bill needs "revisions in the language" before he can vote for it.

Eugene Scott contributed reporting for this story

Go deeper