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Leadership dynamics explain why there's still no debt limit deal

Lindsey McPherson, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — Political calculations and concerns about legislative precedent within Congress and the White House have brought the government within a week of potentially failing to pay all of its debt obligations.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, nearly five months on the job as the top House leader, is trying to maintain the good will he has fostered among his conference, particularly conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus who wouldn’t hesitate to push the California Republican out if they feel he betrayed them.

President Joe Biden wants to keep Democratic lawmakers and their constituencies happy ahead of his 2024 reelection bid, while also seeking to portray himself as a fair dealmaker to independents that he needs to win a second term.

And all the while Republican and Democratic leaders are trying to reach a legislative solution that sets a good precedent for their parties in future debt limit fights.

Those dynamics underscore why negotiators have yet to reach a deal to lift the statutory debt limit. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned if lawmakers don’t act before June 1 her department may run out of cash and accounting maneuvers needed to pay all government debt obligations.

The week before that “x date,” negotiators had begun narrowing their differences but made no promises about an imminent deal.


“Nothing’s agreed to overall, but we know exactly where we need to be to solve this problem,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday.

Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, one of McCarthy’s proxies negotiating with the White House, said getting a deal before the weekend “looks very difficult” as negotiators have yet to settle on “consequential” details surrounding spending levels and policy attachments.

“There’s still significant work being done and thorny issues,” the North Carolina Republican said.

‘Substantial number of votes’


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