WASHINGTON ― In March, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s colleagues laughed as the California Republican mocked President Joe Biden’s age, saying he would bring Biden “soft food” so they could negotiate over the debt ceiling.
But McCarthy apparently did not bring Biden anything to eat during their talks, and the president chewed up the GOP’s debt limit proposal instead. Republicans aren’t laughing anymore.
“Republicans got outsmarted by a President who can’t find his pants,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) tweeted on Tuesday, making clear she opposed the compromise legislation that came out of Biden and McCarthy’s negotiations.
Biden, 80, is the oldest person to serve as president of the U.S., and his age and alleged senility have been a constant focus of Republicans and right-wing commentators, despite assurances from his doctors that there’s nothing wrong with his mind. Polls have also shown that voters have concerns about Biden’s age.
During the debt limit standoff, McCarthy repeatedly said that by refusing to negotiate with Republicans, Biden was “bumbling” the U.S. toward a potentially catastrophic default. Even some Democrats criticized the president for not publicly engaging as much as McCarthy has in recent weeks. But as of Wednesday, default seemed unlikely, and the outlines of the deal appeared favorable to Democrats.
Asked if Biden had gotten the better of McCarthy, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), replied, “Yeah, I think that’s a fair assumption.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), meanwhile, said he believed McCarthy had simply been “misled.” He didn’t say by whom.
Even McCarthy conceded that he had been impressed with Biden’s negotiating team during the talks, calling them “very professional, very smart” and “very tough at the same time.”
But the speaker has denied that he was outsmarted, touting the bill’s reductions to government spending and stricter “work requirements” for federal food benefits that Democrats opposed. The legislation would reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, in large part due to cuts to non-defense programs, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“How were we outsmarted? The largest cut in the history of Congress. The biggest ability to pull money back,” McCarthy told ABC News on Tuesday. “We’ve got work requirements for welfare where the Democrats said was a red line.”
Still, Biden got plenty of wins in the bill, which cuts federal spending far less than Republicans initially hoped. And in a twist, the CBO said the work requirements won’t reduce spending or enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The program supports 20 million households and already limits benefits for unemployed adults without children or disabilities who are between the ages of 18 and 49, unless they work or perform some other qualifying activity for 20 hours a week. Republicans proposed expanding the work requirement to people in their early 50s, as well as restricting states’ discretion to exempt some recipients. The CBO estimated the Republican proposal would have saved $11 billion and reduced SNAP enrollment by 275,000.
Biden signaled early on that he was open to stricter work requirements for SNAP, just not “anything of any consequence” — a statement that drew mocking laughter from McCarthy and his colleagues as someone, apparently a lawmaker behind the speaker, shouted, “Loser!”
Sure enough, Biden agreed to expand SNAP’s work rules to people as old as 54 — but the White House also won changes that render the net impact of the bill inconsequential, at least from a budget perspective. The CBO said that, thanks to brand-new work requirement exemptions for veterans and homeless people, the bill would actually increase SNAP enrollment by a small amount and boost federal spending by $2 billion.
The analysis was not a surprise to the White House; a senior administration official said Sunday that “we expect that the number of people subject to SNAP work requirements will stay roughly the same under this agreement.”
The deal also preserves key Democratic priorities like student loan debt relief, climate change funding, and the bulk of investments aimed at making sure the wealthy pay their taxes.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) likened the bill to a “shit sandwich” that Republicans would have to eat — a sentiment shared by other Republicans planning to support the bill in a vote on Wednesday.
That doesn’t mean Democrats don’t have concerns about the legislation. Progressives, in particular, are furious that Biden was forced to negotiate over the debt limit at all, warning that he set a precedent Republicans will exploit time and time again if the debt limit isn’t abolished.
“It rewards the hostage-taking that the Republicans have gotten so damn good at,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Tuesday.
Still, Democrats maintain the GOP has underestimated Biden at every turn, pointing to his many legislative accomplishments in the last Congress, including bipartisan investments in infrastructure and semiconductor research, and his signing of a historic climate change bill.
“If you haven’t figured out by now that our president is in the top 1% of negotiators, you haven’t been paying attention the last two and a half years,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told HuffPost.