Guile and Error: a debate | Crooked Media
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July 14, 2023
Positively Dreadful
Guile and Error: a debate

In This Episode

President Biden cut a deal with House Speaker McCarthy to increase the national debt limit. Or, more accurately, he defused the Republican threat to default on the debt and tank the economy if Democrats don’t accede to their policy demands––at least for the next few years. Many pundits have said Biden “won” the debt-limit fight, that he didn’t concede any more than he would’ve during the regular government-funding process, and that he achieved some semblance of bipartisanship. But that stands in stark contrast to President Obama’s approach; after House Republicans extorted much bigger concessions from him in 2011, Obama said it was a mistake to negotiate in the first place, and refused to do so again. Republicans talked a big game, puffed their chests, but ultimately backed down from future standoffs. Which approach is right? Those who argue Biden out-negotiated McCarthy, and thus “won”? Or those who say Biden’s decision to negotiate in the first place re-establishes a terrible precedent and thus precludes any claim to victory? Host Brian Beutler moderates a new, debate-style format for the show. Jordan Weissmann, Washington editor of Semafor, defends Biden’s approach, while David Dayen, executive editor of the American Prospect, argues this new precedent won’t age well.







Brian Beutler: Hello and welcome to Positively Dreadful. With me your host, Brian Beutler. We’re going to do something a little different this week. Depart a bit from the typical one on one conversation format we usually have and stage something a little more like an argument. So a few weeks ago, you probably remember President Biden cut a deal with Kevin McCarthy, the House speaker, to increase the national debt limit or to put it in more elucidating terms, the deal defused for the next couple of years. The Republican Party threat to default on the national debt tanked the national and possibly international economies unless Democrats give in to certain republican policy demands. For the last 12 years, we’ve called those concessions ransoms because the demand is highly extortionate. Cough up the dough or the economy gets it. And because after the first time Republicans tried this. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the debt limit, quote, “a hostage worth ransoming.” Okay, so they cut a deal. We did not default on our debt. The economy continues to perform quite well, in fact. And with the crisis in the rearview, a consensus wisdom has congealed in national politics. The Biden essentially won the debt limit fight. Part of it was that the White House mounted an unusually aggressive spin campaign to wrest the national discourse away from the idea that he’d paid Republicans these ransoms and and center more on the idea that he’d once again proved that bipartisanship could work. Another part of it was that the most right wing House Republicans were just ripped shit mad that McCarthy didn’t hold out for more concessions. Mostly, though, I think it was that many liberals were basically relieved that Biden got Republicans to increase the debt limit without surrendering to much in the way of policy. The conceit that held the the liberal coalition together was that the deal Biden agreed to was basically no different than the one he would have had to negotiate during the regular government funding process. Republicans have more power now, so he was always going to have to concede something. He just did it under these circumstances instead of later, under slightly different ones. So cards on the table. I have some pretty serious misgivings about that argument, both its premise and the implication that if Biden’s concessions were small, it somehow neutralizes the fact that he agreed to negotiate over the debt limit at all after House Republicans extorted much bigger concessions out of President Obama in 2011, Obama recognized that his big mistake was agreeing to negotiate in the first place. 


[clip of President Obama]: If we continue to set a precedent in which a president, any president, a Republican president, a Democratic president where the opposing party controls the House of Representatives, if that president is in a situation in which each time the United States is called upon to pay its bills, the other party can simply sit there and say, well, we’re not going to pay the bills unless you give us what our what we want. That changes the constitutional structure of this government entirely. So we can’t negotiate around the debt ceiling. 


Brian Beutler: From that point when he made that quote till the end of his presidency, he refused to negotiate with a gun to his head. And it basically worked out great. Republicans would talk a big game, puffed their chests, but every time they ultimately backed down the idea that Democrats would never let themselves get shaken down again became something like a catechism for the whole party. And yet small as the ransoms might have been, Joe Biden negotiated them. So who’s right? Obama or Biden? Those who argue Biden out negotiated McCarthy and thus won. Or those who say Biden’s decision to negotiate in the first place precludes any claim to victory. That’s what we’re going to argue about today. So who’s we? We is me, your host and moderator. It’s also Jordan Weissmann, who’s Washington editor of Semafor, formerly an economics writer for Slate, who wrote recently an article titled The Democrats Mostly Won the Debt Ceiling Fight. And it’s David Dayen, Friend of the Pod, executive editor of The American Prospect, who says, quote, “Democrats resounding vote for debt ceiling concessions won’t age. Well, David, Jordan, thanks for doing this little experiment with us. 


David Dayen: Thanks for having us. 


Jordan Weissmann: Yeah, I’m ready to throw down. [laughter] Let’s get it on.


David Dayen: Let’s get violent. Let’s do it. 


Brian Beutler: Okay. So Jordan says Biden won the debt limit fight. I think David and I basically don’t [laughter] agree, but I think we all do agree. Let’s start with what we do agree that Biden actually conceded a little more because of the default threat than he would have in a normal budgeting process. You’re you’re with us on that. Right, Jordan? Like that’s what I took from your article. 


Jordan Weissmann: Yeah, a little bit more. I mean, to me, it’s sort of like the end of The Big Lebowski where the dude is reaching into his wallet because the Nihilists have just asked for whatever change they have on hand. And he’s like, okay, okay, I’ll pay this. [laughter] You know. Yeah, let’s get off cheaply here. It’s, you know, that’s I maybe I’m overstating things a little bit there, but yeah, they this was not absolutely a normal budget deal. One of the major things that Republicans got out of it, for instance, was a reduction to IRS funding that Democrats had very proudly included in the Inflation Reduction Act that, you know, a lot of us that had spent years saying refund the IRS. And even after this cut, you know, the Democrats are still going to pour out a whole bunch of new money into that agency. But it’s still it hurt a little bit. And that’s the kind of thing that probably would not have happened in an absolutely normal budget negotiation. At the same time, the broad contours of the deal just you know, weren’t anything that extraordinary. It wasn’t the kind of, you know, eye popping, you know, world ending concession that, you know, Freedom Caucus went into this showdown, you know, determined to to wring out of the administration. 


Brian Beutler: And David, do you more or less feel the same way about that? Right. Like there were concessions that wouldn’t have been there absent the default threat. But it’s not like in 2011 when it was this sort of crippling exercise in austerity that threatens the whole rest of Biden’s presidency or something like that. 


David Dayen: I don’t think the deal is as bad as the 2011 Budget Control Act. I also don’t think we know what the deal is yet. 


Brian Beutler: Right. 


David Dayen: So he almost immediately after passage of this, the House Republicans essentially tried to retrade the deal. They they have said that we’re going to go into appropriations and instead of using the numbers that were laid out in the debt limit deal, we’re going to use the numbers that we laid out back in late April, moving back the the the threshold, the at the top line number to fiscal year 2022 rather than fiscal year 2023, which is what was in this deal. We don’t know how that’s going to play out yet. The I mean, you can look at this actually on Jordan’s side or on my side, like on Jordan’s side, you could say, well, you know what, They’re still having the budget deal. So in terms of what we got out of getting the debt limit raised, it was only these ancillary things that the budget deal itself wasn’t even part of it, because we’re going to have that fight later. If you look at it, in my sense, we’ve we’ve now ratcheted down what the the top level of that deal could be. It’s probably going to be lower than that because we’re having a negotiation over where the budget is going to end up. And we did all of these other throw ins in addition. So I think it’s very to be determined. 


Jordan Weissmann: So I don’t disagree with that. I mean, if you look at where the budget is, the the budget showdown is heading now, it’s a mess. Right. [laughs] Like they came to this deal, they had they struck this debt ceiling bargain. And now the House Freedom Caucus is essentially saying we want a mulligan. You know that we are. And they they put out a letter yesterday telling Kevin McCarthy in so many words that they absolutely will not vote for a bill that sticks to the debt ceiling target. Well, you know, one question this raises is whether or not the House Freedom Caucus is essentially just writing themselves out of negotiations now, because in the Senate, Republicans are basically going and Democrats are working together and writing appropriations bills at the levels set out in the debt ceiling agreement. Right. Like, right now, it seems like a cleavage is now actually opening up between Republicans in the House and Senate, which was not there before during the debt ceiling fight. So but what’s going to happen exactly? We do not know. 


Brian Beutler: I do want to say that like, yes, the debt limit fight, if you look at it from the from the narrow perspective of what it did to the House Republican Conference is that it opened this cleavage that you described. And it in a way McCarthy called the Freedom Caucus bluff because the idea was always like if they even cross them an inch, they’re just going to dethrone him and pick an even more right wing person and force that person to be speaker. And that didn’t happen. And so maybe maybe that means that, you know, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats can can do a budget deal. Freedom Caucus writes themselves out of it. And McCarthy once again survives, you know, whatever. That’s just like House Republicans and their constant internal politics, like the freedom. Caucus exists to kind of be antagonistic to the speaker. But I do think that however that shakes out what they accomplished with the with the deal they put together is to say, Democrats, this is your ceiling. But that doesn’t mean it’s our floor. Like, we like we got this much out of you from the debt limit fight. And when it comes to appropriations fight, we’re going to come back for another bite at the apple. This does not resolve two years worth of like fiscal and economic fighting we’re going to do with you. 


David Dayen: That’s right. And then, you know, the other element of this is that if there is a failure to reach an agreement and this is where I think Democrats kind of put it in a back door into the budget deal, that from my perspective, is very interesting. But maybe it isn’t even as far as they want to go. But so if they have to, what is known as a continuing resolution, in other words, they just say, okay, we’re going to keep funding at current levels and we’re going to do that in perpetuity. If there is if we get to the end of this calendar year, December 31st of this year, and that is still the case where we’re running on continuing resolutions, we haven’t passed any of the annual appropriations. What then snaps in is this other restriction which not only cuts non-discretionary spending by a further amount of 1%, but then also cuts defense spending at that level too, the current fiscal year level -1%, which would be a huge cut to defense spending because in the deal, defense spending was was increased. And so in real terms, it’s like a 10% cut to to the defense budget. 


Jordan Weissmann: Didn’t you refer to this as a sequester like object at one point? I think that was your [laughter] description of it. 


David Dayen: Yeah, yeah. 


Jordan Weissmann: I like to, technically, technically correct or not. I like that they’re thinking it’s sort of like a thing floating in space that we’re kind of squinting at and trying to figure out exactly. 


David Dayen: Yes, exactly. But it gets you to a really interesting kind of circumstance where, you know, the other thing that it does, by the way, is that whole 20 billion that is supposed to be taken away from the IRS is all contingent on coming up with a deal in appropriations. And so if that deal isn’t made, that 20 billion isn’t taken away. So if you’re a liberal Democrat that says, I think we should probably spend less on the military, and I don’t think we should take away money from the IRS, you get that. If after December 31st, there’s no resolution. So it’s a it’s kind of an interesting back door. 


Jordan Weissmann: Oh, yeah. If you really want to get down the weeds here, I think there are a lot of open questions about what the best strategy [laughs] for progressives is. If the House Freedom Caucus really tries to press hard for further cuts because there’s 1% across the board cut might actually be preferable. And, you know, if you talked to Democrats when they were kind of sealing this deal, they would say like, this is here. So that partly so that Republicans can’t renege on all of the side deals that we just made. This is partly an enforcement mechanism so that, you know, they so, you know, part of the logic is there’s no way they’re going to allow defense to get a cut in the coming year. And you already see, even under the budget deal that negotiated, you know, Lindsey Graham is practically having an aneurysm because he doesn’t think it raises defense enough. God only knows what would happen. You know, his head would be all over the Senate walls like he would explode if if if you actually had a cut next year. 


David Dayen: And that’s the other issue, though, right, Jordan? With respect to the Senate, because what the House is doing is the House Republicans are saying, no, we have to cut spending down. And what the Senate Republicans are saying is, no, we have to add money to the military budget. And typically when that happens, Democrats say, okay, you can have money in the military budget, but you have to increase the nonmilitary budget. And so both the House and Senate are going in completely opposite directions on this thing, which is why I think ultimately nothing will be resolved. 


Jordan Weissmann: I mean, we don’t know. And I think that that’s your first point, is that we don’t know exactly what the final deal will look like. It’s TBD. But I you know, I’m a little worried that we’re getting far away from kind of the big picture question, which is, you know, whether or not they were right to negotiate and whether we’re we’re kind of getting— 


Brian Beutler: Yes. Thank you, Jordan [both speaking] for, for moderating on my behalf. [laughter]


Jordan Weissmann: Yeah, but I want to I just kind of want to talk about in the the way I’m framing it mentally, knowing that it’s still to be determined what spending for next year looks like, which is just, you know, the real negative. I think you agree with me, David, is not so much the specific spending cuts that were negotiated, but just that Biden was affirming, you know, this Republican strategy of taking hostages, even if they looked like the nihilists at the end of Big Lebowski, they still they got something out of this hostage situation. And on the other side, the question is, I was affirming that. Was that like, was that so terrible or is it better for Biden not to have taken a major kind of unknowable risk about what would have happened to the economy and his presidency if he had tried to stare them down all the way to the bitter end? Right. To me, it was a question of risk and reward. And what was the alternative for Biden if he didn’t negotiate? And part of his problem here was really that if you maybe, you know, you could say it was a communications problem or a public relations blunder initially. But if you looked at polling, it wasn’t clear that A, the public supported his no negotiation stance. There were things that public echelon polls that said that 74% of the public thought he should negotiate. You know, at the same time, it wasn’t at all obvious that if we did breach the debt limit, if Republicans didn’t blink and Biden didn’t blink and the economy went to hell, that people would necessarily blame the Republicans. It looked like in polling that blame was kind of split. It was kind of a pox on both your houses situation that, you know, given that everyone just assumes the president is in charge of the economy, it probably would not have worked to his benefit in the end. And then that also the question and I know this is why we’re eventually going to fight about so I’m bringing this up now is could he have done some sort of workaround like the coin, like the 14th Amendment without the entire, you know, global financial world freaking out about the world of uncertainty that they were just entering in? Because who knows if any of that’s legal? And to me and to do this is the fundamental thing is it didn’t seem to me like the work arounds were such a great option because, you know, it’s not just whether they’re legal, it’s whether or not the Supreme Court thinks they’re legal and whether or not the financial markets are going to buy that the Supreme Court is going to say that they are legal. And so that was the world of uncertainty we were potentially heading into. And I don’t know if that risk was worth it for Biden. And I don’t really think it was. [music plays]




Brian Beutler: I want to interject here because I feel like the experience under Obama suggests that there’s like a decent reason to believe that if you just say, no, we’re not going to negotiate this anymore, the Republicans will, you know, hem and haw and then they’ll they’ll come up with some fig leaf to pretend that they didn’t actually cave, but they’ll cave. And then the debt limit gets raised and then you do that again in two or three years. I think two things happened that made Biden, like Biden, kind of tricked himself into just forgoing that option. The first was that his advisers decided that it would be really politically valuable for him to say, if you want to negotiate with me. Pass a budget because they thought, A, Republicans won’t be able to pass a budget, but B, if they do, it’s going to be so full of hideously unpopular things that we’re going to be able to use those against them in the election. And so Kevin McCarthy called the bluff, right. Like he did the House did pass this very draconian budget and it was full of super unpopular stuff, as it turns out like it doesn’t seem to have done anything to national politics that Republicans passed this bill and it’s unclear to me how Democrats are going to exploit it in the coming election. But, B, it made like it put Biden in this position where if he says, well, now that you passed the budget, I’m still not going to negotiate, look like he was like pulling a bait and switch on them, that, you know, honestly, like I feel like they would have been right to say, look, we did what you asked us to do and you’re still saying no. And it would have been wiser for him to say no. Like there one set of rules that binds the parties and we don’t we don’t shake you down when there’s a Republican president and make extortionate demands of you. And so we’re not going to accept those from you. A, would have been like fairly likely to work and, B, it would have been and this is the second part of it, more resonant of a message then I’m not negotiating over the debt limit. Like, nobody really knows what the debt limit is, but everyone kind of understands. We insist on the rules of fair play and and if you’re not going to abide by them, then we’re not going to play the game. And he foreclosed both the I’m not negotiating option and the and the and the you guys are playing dirty pool attack line and that’s why he ended up having to concede things to them. 


David Dayen: And Brian, I would say that if you talk to White House officials and get them to actually be honest with you, they would say that they didn’t expect Kevin McCarthy to be able to pass anything. And their strategy was essentially hinged on the fact that Kevin McCarthy wouldn’t be able to pass anything. And if he didn’t, he’d have to come back hat in hand and they’d get this over with with, you know, some sort of fig leaf certainly wouldn’t be what what ended up transpiring. If you posit that there was no other strategy other than what the the White House did, I would I agree in some sense with Jordan that once once the things unfurled as that as they happened, then, yeah, this was sort of the best of a bad situation. If if if you think there was another way to play this that wasn’t just sort of taunting McCarthy into coming up with his own bill, and then when he did not having a plan B, then if there was another way to work that out, then yes, I think you could have on on principle held out. 


Jordan Weissmann: Yeah. Well, so it’s interesting you’re saying that the original sin here is really just the moment. He said pass a budget and we can talk. And I see what you’re saying there. I guess the thing in my mind is, you know, let’s say he had still said or let’s imagine that Biden had never, you know, taunted McCarthy that way. And he just said, I’m not negotiating. And then McCarthy went and passed a budget of his own anyway, passed the same kind of draconian bill that repealed all of [laughs] all of the IRAs, decarbonization funding and all the other crazy stuff it did. And let’s say that that bill then and then McCarthy shut up and said, okay, we’ve we’ve passed a budget now let’s talk. Would there not have been any public pressure on Biden to give in? I don’t I don’t know. It would have worked out that way. 


David Dayen: I mean, certainly there was public pressure once. I mean, the media certainly turned and said, you know, McCarthy has done his job and now Biden must do his. But that is a function of how Biden set up the rules of the game beforehand. 


Jordan Weissmann: Right. Maybe. I think part of the problem also, you know, when it comes to making the comparison that 2013 when when Obama said, no, I’m just I’m not going to negotiate. Screw you. Is that the front man for the GOP effort in 2013 was Ted Cruz. Right. Like one of the least appealing personalities in American politics at that moment. 


[clip of Ted Cruz]: On spending, do we surrender or do we stand up now? On debt, do we surrender or do we stand up now? 


Jordan Weissmann: Just roundly loathed by almost everyone, yeah, of any moment [laughter] except for a part of the Republican Party. Much of Washington saw this as sort of a Cruz driven stunt, and that is a little bit different than what was unfolding where you had the speaker of the House essentially say, no, I you know, I want to negotiate some sort of budget deal here and or some sort of spending deal here. And then the entire Senate Republican conference line up behind McCarthy as well and saying, yes, we’re with Kevin McCarthy. It just it wasn’t the same kind of circus that was unfolding in 2013, which I think made it a little politically easier for Obama also, because they had just gone through the 2011 showdown, right. Where they had struck a deal and that you had seen the you know, the sequester had started to unfold and everyone was sort of sitting there saying, we’re really doing this again so that, you know, you’re going to make Obama repeal Obamacare. Like, really, that’s that’s what’s happening. It’s a very different set of circumstances. So I you know, I can’t prove you’re wrong about the counterfactual that necessarily if Biden had just never said pass a budget first, he would have been a different set of political circumstances and he could have stood up to McCarthy a little bit more strongly. But it just I’m not sure that’s really the case. 


Brian Beutler: I’m glad you said that, because one thing that drives me nuts about, like the White House argument that this was like the same deal we would have ended up having to negotiate in appropriations, which fortunately we all agree is not probably not true, is that we actually can’t now because you can only run the experiment once and they ran it and and this is how it came out. And we’ll never be able to run it again to see what it would look like if Biden had, like, taken a harder line stance against negotiating and held to it. I think, you know, what we’re going to find near the end of this conversation [laughs] is that a big part of what what pisses me off so much about it, you know, isn’t like the the the specific terms that Biden agreed to so much as, you know, I can’t know how it would shake out, but I think that the Democratic Party, after 12 years of this, ought to be run by people who are willing to say, I don’t care if you pass a budget. We’re not negotiating under extortionate terms and stick to it, because like the lesson of the past dozen years is that if you concede to these demands, they come back for more. And A, that’s dangerous because eventually you’ll probably end up defaulting on the debt. But B, like the parties should have a little bit more pride or dignity or whatever it is to just insist like that, like nobody gets extorted or everyone gets extorted. But it’s not just us. 


David Dayen: And that’s especially true, Brian, because first of all, A, they came back for more within a week. [laughter] Like it took them all of seven days to say yes, and we’re going to come back for more. And that wasn’t only true on the budget. I would point you toward the situation with work requirements in some of these federal benefit programs. Right now, we are negotiating in Congress the farm bill and the farm bill usually dictates what the policies are for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. We did these these work requirements in in food stamp benefits and SNAP benefits in the debt limit deal. And what McCarthy has said explicitly is that they were for them in the debt limit deal. And now we’re going to ask for more restrictions in the farm bill. And while the Senate agriculture— 


Jordan Weissmann: That’s also because McCarthy may have asked—


David Dayen: No, no, no. Yeah, I know what you’re going to say is that McCarthy may have accidentally increased food stamp benefits. But I my view is that an actual reading of reality that is not based in Congressional Budget Office modeling actually would show that that there’s no way this is going to increase food stamp benefits. It makes the assumption that you’re going to immaculately find unhoused individuals who and all of the people who are unfunded to actually help them get those benefits. It’s not realistic. And I’ve talked I mean, I’ve talked to, to benefit agencies that handle this stuff, and they say we have no ability to to sign up people who are unhoused. It’s just not going to happen. 


Brian Beutler: Wait, can I interject? I want you guys to keep fighting this out. But I just I just want to clarify for our listeners who aren’t familiar. [both speaking] Is is is that so, so the debt limit deal includes a bunch of, like, unreciprocated concessions that Democrats made and there are none of them is huge. But like, it funds like dirty energy infrastructure but not clean energy transmission and I think in a free and fair appropriations fight. You would say Republicans would demand the first thing, Democrats would demand the second thing, and they would just end up doing both in the food stamp context. What what like Democrats in the White House say is, look, yes, we agreed to some work requirements on food stamps, but we also increased eligibility to to veterans and homeless Americans. So they made one demand. We made another demand, and we did both. And what what Jordan and David are debating is whether the what Democrats say they got is is real or whether it’s just an authorization that allows them to enroll on paper. But there’s no infrastructure in place to find them so they won’t actually be enrolled. So is there going to be a woodwork effect where because this is available to them, they’ll they’ll they’ll come to the benefit. I personally am willing to like bracket that one to just see how it plays out. But Kevin McCarthy seemed pretty confident that like, yeah, we gave him a benefit and like we’re not going to help any veterans or homeless people find—


Jordan Weissmann: The day that this deal came down and everyone started looking at the numbers as the CBO calculated them. Everyone’s like, Oh, Dark Brandon rises again, right? Because the official stats were just that actually you’re going to see an expansion in the food stamp program as a result of this trade off. But that’s only on paper. That’s that’s that’s just according to the CBO’s calculations, which as anybody who’s followed health care debates or what budget debates or really any kind of policy debate knows that whatever the CBO says doesn’t necessarily pan out. But, you know, all I want to say about this is I am curious to see how big a deal this is. I know that agencies who work really hard at this stuff and are obviously are the troops on the ground are have cast some doubt on how much of a difference it’s going to make to the unhoused population. What I will say is that a ton of America’s unhoused family or unhoused population are actually mothers with children and families are children who are you know, they are unhoused technically, but they’re actually maybe living with somebody. They’re not necessarily street homeless people who are who are really, really hard to track down. It’s, you know, in New York City, which is a huge unhoused population, a lot of them have like I have residences and, you know, shelters where they can be found or in, you know, essentially hotels. Yeah. I’d be curious to see how much of a difference this makes for those kinds of families. Right. Like those kinds of struggling mothers with children who aren’t necessary, who are out of homes right now. Like I, I don’t know if so that that’s what I’m personally look—


David Dayen: I certainly hope it does. I certainly hope it does. I will say that as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has pointed out, there was already an exemption for unhoused individuals on certain numbers of food stamp work requirements. And the fact that you needed to include another one shows that the original exemptions didn’t really work to bring people into the program. And there are all other sorts of of hurdles to this having a stable address so that more information can be given about changes to the program, which obviously happen on a regular basis. Many cities that have SNAP benefits force the use of a digital device like a phone or computer to get updates and do sort of verifications and everything you need to even though the exemption here is on one type of work requirement, there is another type such that there is an income test. And so there are there’s documentation that has to be put together by these particular individuals. The three populations, it’s unhoused veterans and people recently out of the foster care program have been described to me by by by these groups as the most difficult to identify at a population level and actually get assistance from outreach services. So this is going to be a huge, huge challenge. And and just looking at numbers on a piece of paper and saying, yeah, yay, yay Biden he beat them at their own game, I don’t think really is looking at reality here. 


Jordan Weissmann: I mean, just coming back to why Republicans are taking another bite at the apple, though, It’s like, well, they you know, they got they got beat. But to your point, they on paper— 


David Dayen: I think it’s because they can they’re taking another bite of the apple because they can. And and I think that it’s it was an enabling event in some respects. 


Jordan Weissmann: The question of how convincingly Democrats could have made the argument that Republicans are playing dirty if they if like you said, that Biden had just from the very, very beginning said, no, I’m not going negotiate. And the thing here is that Nancy Pelosi in 2019. She knew she had control of the house and she went to the Trump administration and said, listen, debt limits coming up. I’ll help you. I’ll help you raise it. There’ll be no drama, but you have to give us a big frickin boost to discretionary spending, you know, hundreds of billions of dollars. And the deal happened. And the reason it happened is because in the end, Donald Trump did not give a shit about the deficit. And Steve Mnuchin— 


Brian Beutler: Republicans never do, though It’s always like. 


Jordan Weissmann: Truly did not give a shit about the deficit. Some Republicans do, though. Some are some of a small number of in the House Freedom Caucus definitely care about the deficit and still resent this happening. But so the like Nancy Pelosi did leverage the debt limit into a big increase in non-defense spending that, you know, now Republicans get back and say, listen, you made us negotiate, too. And is it the same thing? No, it’s not the same thing because nobody believes Democrats actually would have ever blown up the world over this. It just wouldn’t have happened. The circumstances are totally different. But it’s it’s again, politically, it muddies the waters a little bit if you’re trying to take that Shermanesque stand. 


Brian Beutler: I will say that what I think Nancy Pelosi ought to have done when she became speaker or even prior to when she became speaker, when it was just Republicans with unified control. But they needed Democratic votes to increase the debt limit is to say, look, you need our votes to increase the debt limit and we are insisting upon never being extorted again. So our only demand in exchange for our votes is to abolish the debt limit or make it something that the President can increase unilaterally or raise it to Avogadro’s number. And we’ll just let you know—


Jordan Weissmann: Yeah. From your mouth to God’s like, yeah, absolutely. That should have happened. I wish— [laughter] 


Brian Beutler: Well, okay, but like, it’s sort of relevant to the question the meta question is like are are Democrats fucking this up? No, I know, but like—


David Dayen: Well, but they, they don’t think in those terms. Once these things get passed and are out of sight. I have called this the the long lines problem. If you remember, in 2012, during his acceptance speech, Barack Obama talked about the glory of people waiting hours and hours and hours in line to cast a vote for him for president and then made an aside that said, we got to fix that. I want to thank. 


[clip of President Obama]: Every American who participated in this election. [applause] Whether you voted for the very first time [applause] or waited in line for a very long time. [applause] By the way, we have to fix that. 


David Dayen: You might remember that nothing actually happened to fix that after the four years. Once you’re out of the the the cauldron of of the election, long lines are very, very quickly forgotten. And I think the Democrats take that principle to the the the debt ceiling fights. They have them and then they forget about them. 


Brian Beutler: There was reporting in Politico, like a week or two ago about this, which is that, you know, Joe Biden said, look, next time I’m going to look at 14th Amendment and various other ways to like— 


David Dayen: He said, he would look at it after directly after this happened. And everybody knew that was BS. And and indeed, they reported it was BS. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Let me try to bring a little bit of structure to like how we’ve moved on from the specifics of the of the deal and to to like this question of like so is this just, you know, are we going to do debt limit extortion jubilee forever now? So let’s try to figure this out, right? Jordan I think like and the reason I commend people to your piece is you do a really good job making the case that the concessions weren’t catastrophic. And like, I think if if there had been no debt limit, like a default threat and Biden had gone into the regular appropriations process and come out with this bill, I would have said like, well, he probably could have driven a harder bargain, but this isn’t any kind of catastrophe and and moved on. And I wouldn’t be so worked up about it. But like, what I’d like to hear you grapple with is why Biden’s reversal of his pledge not to negotiate doesn’t factor into the analysis of whether he he won. Right. And like why people who think it was a major error or a big betrayal are wrong to feel like he really let them down. 


Jordan Weissmann: So I wish I’d addressed this a little bit more at length, or really more period in that piece I wrote at the time. But here I think, yeah, Biden did let part of the Democratic Party that really wanted a showdown, down. I think that’s true. He did. There’s no way around that. Like he disappointed people who wanted this to be kind of the final battle over the debt ceiling, that it was you know, we were going to we were going to just resolve this for now and end ever more. Here’s what I’m going to say, I hope happens, which is and maybe this might be the most optimistic reading for you, for you guys possible, which is, you know. This this negotiation did not end in catastrophe for Democrats. At the same time, Democrats are really pissed that they had to do it. They’re still pissed. You still see guys like Tim Kaine saying like, man, I really wish we had just raised this thing on our own when we had the opportunity. And it’s disabused people like Charles Schumer. I think I think his disabused of Charles Schumer, of the idea that they can just say no to negotiations, because that was part of you know, that was part of the reason why they didn’t try to take action on their own when they had unified control of Congress was, A, you know, there probably weren’t the votes. You weren’t going to get Joe Manchin to raise the debt ceiling to, to Graham’s number or to infinity plus one. But you were [laughs] you were you know, you could at least had maybe a conversation about it. But there was this sense, especially after there was that kind of like mini debt ceiling confrontation between McConnell and Schumer, where the debate was wasn’t even over whether it be raised, it was about which party was going to do it. There was a sense that Democrats could just always win a stare down. And so they they didn’t have to worry about this anymore. And now that’s kind of it’s kind of clear that’s not the case, that there probably are going to be negotiations in the future. And so that’s creating an incentive to maybe just finally defuse this bomb when they finally have a chance at some point. And, you know, again, maybe it won’t happen. But I think the best possible outcome here is that this was a scary enough experience to maybe make Democrats realize they have to do the thing, which is in some sense eliminate the debt ceiling. At the same time, the price for coming to that realization may have been low enough that it’s not going to, you know, ruin Biden’s presidency or leave a permanent scar on the economy or the federal government. That that’s my that’s my best case scenario here, I think. And I think just talking to people and seeing what’s being said publicly, that’s that’s kind of sounds like maybe, maybe I can hold out hope here. That the long lines problem won’t be a— 


David Dayen: I feel like I’m listening to a tape from 2011 now, like we had a much more catastrophic fight in 2011 that, you know, led to an actual downgrade of of US debt that was much closer to the Armageddon point where people said all of these same things about how we now know that Republicans are willing to push this to an unacceptable degree and we can’t ever have this kind of it’s what it’s what motivated Obama to just sort of shut it down in 2013. But we never get to the point where we stop having this conversation altogether, where we join the community of nations, which is all of them except for Denmark, that doesn’t have a debt limit. We never get to that point. And I think the long nights problem kind of has something to do with that. 


Brian Beutler: Well, I also think that if if this was a scary enough experience to, like, roust Democrats into saying, all right, we’re really going to actually neuter it this time. There is a lawsuit happening right now by the National Association of Government Employees. Right. I’m going to try to do this from memory, because I read the brief when it came out, but it’s been a couple of months. And the idea is that when the country is approaching the debt limit and Congress isn’t moving to increase it fast enough, the Treasury Department undertakes all these extraordinary measures to stave off default, and those include shuffling money that would otherwise be invested in government employee retirement accounts and using it to service debt so they get harmed. They have a they have standing to sue to say the extraordinary measures hurt us, but they’re all done in service of avoiding default on the debt. But defaulting on the debt is unconstitutional, and so you the courts should just say no more extraordinary measures because also no more debt limit. And I think it’s a really clever argument. And, you know, I was thinking, you know, you wait until a week before the X date and you have AARP or whatever. Some, you know, some appealing group of plaintiffs try to sue to get the debt limit eliminated by the courts. But that’s very you know, that’s right down to the wire. And you don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but this is ongoing, like the harms are done. And like, does Biden support the idea that the government employees get screwed by this and thus he supports their lawsuit like the DOJ won’t take the other side of it like what’s his view on it?


David Dayen: Because let’s be clear, the person they’re suing is Joe Biden. 


Brian Beutler: Yes. 


David Dayen: NHE is suing Joe Biden and Janet Yellen. You know, they had the opportunity to take that side of the argument. And what they said is that they rejected the NHE’s case and there was going to be a hearing. It was going to be the day before the X date, and it was postponed because an agreement was reached. Their argument is actually a somewhat small C conservative argument, NHE, they say that this would give essentially a president an unconstitutional line item veto because what it would force the president to do is decide which programs it could afford with current spending and which programs it would have to forego by by not not funding them at all. And that’s picking and choosing between policies when it’s supposed to be Congress’s role to do that. So it’s actually sort of an anti executive power argument that they make in this in this particular lawsuit. 


Jordan Weissmann: I am personally really interested to see where this case goes. Like, I thought it was clever when it happened, just it was too late. It was the kind of lawsuit that you wish‚


David Dayen: They started it too late. I absolutely agree. 


Jordan Weissmann: —they should have filed it when extraordinary measures began. And it just because they didn’t think ahead. But in retrospect, that would have been the time that would have given them some time to actually have some arguments. There’s just like a part of my brain that’s like, so snake bitten by the Supreme Court. I’m like, what if they just, like, rule that actually the line item veto is fine? [laughs] Like, what if they just, like, undo that precedent from the nineties? They’re like, Actually, no, it’s kosher now. It’s cool. Or like, actually, actually it’s extraordinary, extraordinary measures of the problem. 


David Dayen: As we saw in Wisconsin recently, liberal chief executives can do quite a lot with a line item veto like extend education funding for 400 years. So—


Jordan Weissmann: Exactly. 


David Dayen: I don’t I don’t know that they would want to do that to, you know [both speaking] empower Dark Brandon.


Brian Beutler: [laughter] Yeah, they would have to do it like. December 28th, 2028, when when 85 year old Dark Brandon is on his way out. 


David Dayen: [laughs] Yeah. 




Brian Beutler: Okay. So I guess ultimately and Jordan, your case wasn’t that this proves like Democrats won the debt limit fight and this proves that it’s fine to just keep having these fights because Democrats can just keep keep winning them. 


Jordan Weissmann: I actually had a version of that argument. I had a total Slate pitch version of that argument [laughter] up until. Basically, that’s what has kind of ruined it. Is this new a new press by the Freedom Caucus to like undo the budget deal they just made? Because up until that point, right. I could put myself back in the mindset of the days after this, ah, this deal came down. You know, you could have made the case that it was actually more functional to have a fight over the debt limit where everyone knew that you couldn’t breach it because that would be the equivalent of a nuclear catastrophe. You know, it was better to do that and hash out the budget that way than what the pattern that Washington has fallen into in the last couple decades, which is just have  these occasional government shutdowns where everything just grinds to a halt for a month, and goes totally dysfunctional. And the reason that government shutdowns happens because people know they are not totally catastrophic for the global economy. You can have a little shutdown just for fun, whereas you can’t just have a little bit of a debt limit breach just for fun. And so for a hot second there it looked to me, it’s like, hey, maybe the debt limit is actually becoming a forcing mechanism to have normal budget agreements. If all sides realize they’re just going to be the time we talk about discretionary spending and actually have a hard deadline we have to meet. To me, it almost you could have made that argument. The problem now is that we might be heading for another government shutdown. It’s unclear. So, unfortunately [laughs] my best argument there that I was totally prepared to make is sort of getting jettisoned by reality. But but I mean, who knows? You know, maybe we won’t have shut. Maybe. Actually, Republicans are going to stick to to this. 


David Dayen: I would argue, Jordan, that the current dysfunction is due to the precedential value of taking a hostage. You know, I mean, the fact that, yes, Democrats decided the Biden administration decided to negotiate over the debt limit has emboldened a certain sect, at least of the Republican Party, to say we can get these guys to negotiate when we need to. And and and you’ve you’ve sort of opened a Pandora’s box. And this is what Jonathan Chait argued, like right after the the debt limit deal was reached is that, you know, once you’ve once you’ve bought into this idea and by the way, maybe maybe once Barack Obama did it in 2011, then then that box was opened. Once you buy into this idea that it’s a normal thing and that the media will even treat it as a normal thing to take hostage the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. Well, you just can you can keep replaying that over and over again until you shut the door. And the door wasn’t shut. 


Brian Beutler: Where Biden really lost me where I like. Like reached the end of my, like, patience for this stuff. Not that it matters if I lose my patience with this stuff is that when it was over, Joe Biden did it, too. He gave a statement from the from the Oval Office, I think, where he, like, thanked Kevin McCarthy and praised him for operating in good faith. And like, I just proved that bipartisanship could work again. Like he is saying, let’s do this again next time. [laughter]


David Dayen: Right. 


Brian Beutler: And and nobody in the party is like, are you fucking crazy? No, this wasn’t awesome at all this. And like, we’re not proud of you. 


David Dayen: There’s certainly a way to to to to close these chapters by saying, this is terrible. [laughs] I’m going to tell you why this is terrible. We shouldn’t ever have to do this again. And now I’m going to sign this grudgingly. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah. 


David Dayen: And there’s no reason not to do that.


Jordan Weissmann: I guess, well, he’s kind of sticking the knife in McCarthy there. Right. Also, he is like you say, is like, oh, this is great. Now, you know, feeding him to his back, to his own party. But—


Brian Beutler: High except not really. 


Jordan Weissmann: Well, he’s I mean— 


David Dayen: Yeah, no, no, I understand what I but I understand what Jordan’s saying. Like, like the caucus was already mad at McCarthy and and Biden taking a victory lap makes them more mad. I mean, there are—


Brian Beutler: Yeah, but there’s more to. But. But but, but this is just like parlor trick games. 


David Dayen: That’s a short term victory. And there’s a long term loss. And the long term loss is that we’re going to keep negotiating over things that shouldn’t be negotiated. 


Jordan Weissmann: I think the problem is, though, that like no politician ever looks good by telling people that they lost. Like, right. That’s like, that’s just like not something any politician’s ever going to do if they can avoid it is saying like, this thing I just did is terrible. It’s just like it’s because like the way public opinion tends to work is like not in those shades of gray. It tends to work in like shades of like, oh, strong, weak—


David Dayen: I don’t know. I don’t know—


Brian Beutler: But like, it really depends what you say. It really depends what you say, right? Like, like if you say Kevin McCarthy is awesome and we cut this great deal together, that’s what people are going to take away from it. If you say House Republicans like I had to protect the country from them because they were threatening to wreck the economy out of spite, and I’m never going to do this again, but I’m doing it now to protect America, then that’s what people will take from there. 


David Dayen: Yeah there’s there are ways to frame it. I mean, I remember at the very beginning of Obama’s presidency when there was an omnibus that had to be finished and he basically took that stance like this was ridiculous. I don’t want to ever be in this position again. I’m going to sign this because I don’t want, you know, people to be furloughed and people to be out of work. I seem to remember that working okay. It’s not something you want to do every time. You don’t want to say, here I am again signing this thing that I don’t want to sign. But I think there are moments where it does have value. And certainly a debt limit fight is one of those moments. 


Brian Beutler: So I want to I want to bring this to to where like my like my what I think is like really why I will probably never be able to, like [laughs] let this predicament go or this like ordeal we just went through. Go. Is it like I think like Jordan, your article makes like I would agree with that if you’re like Democrats won the debt limit fight like given that they’re, too shitty at politics to get out of debt limit fights [laughs] you know but but like what does it say about the Democratic Party that like we went through all this and like Biden’s praising McCarthy and there was like no blowback against Biden for doing it right like it’s not just but I can imagine in a different Democratic Party, a credible officeholder with presidential ambitions. So someone like Cory Booker or Gretchen Whitmer or whoever, like, could have stood up at any point and said, if he’s going to, like, go back on the Obama promise and his own promise not to negotiate with a gun to his head again, then I’m going to enter the Democratic presidential primary like we have to as a party. Stop letting the fact the Republicans act like they’re the insane people who’ve taken over the asylum be an excuse for for caving to them all the time like they need to get their shit in order. And we have some agency over whether they do because we can just like confront them more directly and not give in to their threats. And then Biden would have had a different outlook on things. Right. Like that might have been a very risky thing. 


Jordan Weissmann: But how many Democrats are ever going to vote on this? It’s just like realistically, it’s like, okay, well, I mean, again, part of the problem here is that so few voters understand what the debt limit is or care really, because it hasn’t led to catastrophe yet, that it’s just hard to imagine that how that campaign would unfold. 


David Dayen: And that’s a failure of politics. That’s a failure of the Democratic Party to educate. 


Brian Beutler: If Cory Booker ran for president, if he was like, I wasn’t going to challenge Joe Biden because I thought he was doing a good job. But then he mess this up and now I’m in the race. And the thing he messed up is he doesn’t know how to deal with Republicans. 


Jordan Weissmann: Yeah but you’d have to explain to people what you’d have to say. Okay, well, he messed up. Like what happened. It’s like, well, IRS funding got cut a little bit—


David Dayen: It’s I don’t go I don’t go as far as as Brian on this that that somebody is going to go into the that the political arena just just directly on this vote. But what I will say is that more Democrats voted for this agreement than Republicans. 


Brian Beutler: Right. 


David Dayen: In both the House and the Senate. And that didn’t have to happen. Like, you know, it’s not only the that the chief executive, that can that can make the argument and start educating people on what this means. Right. I mean, you know a a Tim Kaine or. Yeah. I’m not sure what how Kaine voted on on the actual underlying bill. But you know, various members of the party could have said, well, here’s the reason why I am not, you know, putting myself in the position of validating what is a corrupt process and a process that that should never have been embarked upon. And you didn’t need 160 people voting for this. 


Jordan Weissmann: You’re working at a level of politics point that is only like a political issue at this point is only going to resonate with activists and people who write about politics for a living or like political junkies like that is just the nature of this issue, because it’s and it just it the idea that we’re going to create a mass movement against the debt limit. I do see value in just like, you know, proving to the members themselves that, listen, we have like slowly but surely through repetition, showing them that, no, we like it. Like, Democrats need to get rid of this thing. That makes sense to me. It’s just like doing whatever’s possible within an intra intra party politics, intra member politics to try and create support for eventually eliminating is that makes sense. But the idea that you’re going to create a mass movement against something that is fundamentally as abstruse as the debt limit is just it doesn’t ring true or possible to be or realistic to me. 


Brian Beutler: Let me make the case that, like this could have been an opening for some hungry Democrat who’s credible, who wants to be president and doesn’t want to wait until 2028. Is that like. So one of the things that we’ve talked about here internally, externally at Crooked, is that is that for all the misgivings within the Democratic Party about Biden’s age and his energy levels. Right. That that that that alone is a very weak basis for primary him and that’s why the only people who are primarying him are these nutcases like RFK Jr and Marianne Williamson, because vote for me. He’s done a great job, but I’m younger than him. Isn’t an easy sell to make and like you’re going to lose that race. I, I think that with Biden reneging on his promise not to let Republicans extort him, given the backdrop in like Democratic primary politics, that Republicans are like a threat to democracy, they’re authoritarian, they will, like, wreck the country rather than let liberals run it. This was an opportunity for whoever that hungry, ambitious person was to say something different, something like much more substantive. Like like, is the president clear eyed about the opposition and up to the task of beating them or preventing them from hurting the country? And like this is it’s not going to happen now because the moment passed. If it was going to happen, it would have been like right before the debt, like Biden agreed to a deal or like right after the deal was done. But like, I think that the fact that this was never a concern, like Republicans eat up their leaders for making much smaller concessions to Democrats and then spit them out. Right. Like there’s been 17 House speakers in the last Republican House, speakers in—


Jordan Weissmann: But not, but not presidents. Right? That’s a thing— 


Brian Beutler: Well, I mean, they did they went from Mitt Romney to Donald Trump like they will they will try new things if the last thing didn’t work. And I just feel like whatever like I don’t feel like it’s a it’s a permanent condemnation of the whole Democratic Party that not a single person stood up to use that kind of leverage against Joe Biden. But I do think that there is a it it is reflective of a general like passivity and willingness to just like follow that, follow the leader, not rock the boat, pretend everything that happens like worked out as best as possible and then move on and forget it and repeat. 


David Dayen: Let me just add my position that that because I have a slightly different position than than Brian, I don’t I don’t think this was ever going to wind up with a presidential fight. But I and I talked to Pramila Jayapal, who’s the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, about this. And her contention was it was more that that how many Democrats lined up not just to endorse this deal, but to save it. Because if you remember the House, when the House votes, they have to vote on two things. They vote on the underlying bill. But before that, they vote on something called the rule, which sets up the terms for debate in in in the House, on the floor. And Republicans rebelled against the rule for this debt limit deal. And it took 52 Democrats who just decided to cross the aisle, which never happens to vote for the rule so that the bill could come to the floor and then they could pass it. And there was a report of kind of a side deal of maybe they got more earmarks for that. But it as far as Hakeem Jeffries, who’s the Democratic leader, is concerned, they got nothing. They just did the the responsible thing, the right thing to get this deal on the floor. And it’s these continued kind of validations of this deal and this process which lead us stumbling into the next process and the next deal. And so in my view, you can’t look at these on their own terms. You have to look at them for the precedential value that they have and the other deals that they will add that it will motivate. And so that’s my problem. 


Jordan Weissmann: So number one, I just want to say you just used the word process, which is actually the best argument against Brian’s whole point. I could have possibly, oh, anywhere any of us could have come up with. Because if you’re talking about. Process you’re losing politically, right? Like just no one cares about process. And that’s that’s unfortunate. It’s like a great failing of American politics. 


Brian Beutler: They care about fighting. They care about fighting. And whether you defend yourself, it’s like talking about the same process of politics. 


David Dayen: I’m talking about this in terms of policy. And when you when you validate this on process, you get worse policy. And that’s what ultimately we’re talking about here. 


Jordan Weissmann: One thing I would maybe push back on a little bit is we’re talking about this as having set a precedent for hostage taking. Whereas another way to look at it is you’ve sort of set a precedent for like a yes, you could call it hostage taking, but just like a sort of low stakes hostage taking. Right? You’ve set a precedent where you will argue over essentially things that you would argue about anyway. Like that is fundamentally what they did is like you’ve set a precedent for very low stakes hostage taking. And like that is I don’t know if that is a catastrophic precedent. I don’t the problem with it is if it ever spirals out of control in the future, and I can’t say for sure it never, ever will. I’m not that hubristic. I’m not going to because the second I say, of course, this is safe to do forever like it will not be safe to do forever. And I don’t want it to be done forever. But it’s just it doesn’t feel like the even if you’re making trying to make the political argument that this is setting this horrendous, catastrophic precedent, you have to explain to people why. And the second you ask why, that gets you into the actual deal that they made, and it’s like, well, okay, that that doesn’t seem so bad. Why is the next one going to be worse? It’s like, well, it might be, but it’s just it’s so it’s kind of attenuated. It’s not—


David Dayen: And I hear you on that. I hear you on that. It’s but what I would say is, if you are of the position which you just conceded, that you don’t want this to go on forever. 


Jordan Weissmann: Yeah. 


David Dayen: The only way to make sure it doesn’t go on forever is to let everybody know that there’s an actual fight here, that there’s an actual problem here with how this is being conducted. And what Democrats typically do after these deals is they fall in line, they pass the deal, maybe they mutter under their breath about it and then they forget about it. And you’re never going to get this problem to be solved under under that attitude. 


Jordan Weissmann: But my hope is that maybe vain hope is that, you know, because I don’t have much faith in the ability of any politicians to make, you know, your you know, even your medium primary voter really care about this issue. What I do hope is that, just like again, the experience of now multiple generations of Democrat Democratic politicians having gone through this and seeing it doesn’t necessarily turn out great or it turns out or it’s just a shitty process to go through. Like, I’m hoping that that eventually just turns enough minds within the party itself, within the kind of elite level of the party that that eventually makes it possible that you will get 51 senators the next time there’s unified control to say no more of this. That is I think that is the most likely and I don’t know if that requires Joe Biden to go out and say, actually this was horrible. I don’t know if like which is going to require I don’t think you can really do that while totally saving face. And when you’re already at such a low approval rating that like every like showing strength matters. I don’t know if you can go out and say I got kind of I had to grin and bear It is really was really an option for Biden in this situation. So I guess for me, it’s more like, you know, I’m hoping I guess I’m hoping two things. One is that like I’m just hoping that elite discourse can recognize the situation for what it is. Even if Democrats really don’t have an incentive to go out and make a big deal about how awful, you know, whatever just transpired may or may not have been. 


Brian Beutler: I’m going to end it there because I think. Jordan, you’ve got to go. Right. Your follow up piece. Actually, I realize now the Democrats did not win the debt limit fight. [laughter] So I wanna be respectful of your— [laughter] Moderator’s prerogative. I just want to say that I do. I do think that it’s not a process argument to to like stand up to a bully. Like even if there’s no substance at stake, politics is much more than like either process or substance of policy. Right. There is like who has dignity and who’s whining, right. And like, lots of voters make their determinations about who they like in a presidential race on the basis of things like that. Like my my old boss at TPM, Josh Marshall, I don’t think that this is like, like polite to say anymore or you’re not supposed to say or but he referred to something that he called his bitch slap theory of politics, which is that Republicans just go around to Democrats and smack them across the face with the expectation being that Democrats will just turn the other cheek. And like I think he coined it after they they basically accused John Kerry of faking his war wounds. And then John Kerry’s response was like, they should apologize to me. Like who who comes out looking like they’re appealing, dignified, like the tougher person when the exchange goes like that. And I think debt limit fights where Democrats concede to Republicans are like that. Right. Like the person who stands up to the bully and maybe takes a fist to the nose, like actually might draw in more support than somebody who’s like, I’m going to avoid this by handing $20 to the bully. And then he like, like pats me on the head and says, we’ll do this again sometime. Right? Like, that is politics, too. And Democrats, like, choose option B, give the bully the 20 bucks more often than not. And I think that, like their political fortunes, would be better if they said we’re done being pushed around. 


Jordan Weissmann: I think there’s a divide between that the pundit discussion again and like the typical voter discussion, which is the way like pundits are kind of working on this level. It’s like, okay, well, they you know, Biden got a pretty good deal, but the general principle is still here. And so he kind of took a punch. And so he’s still getting pushed around by Republicans, even though in public he managed to make it look like he won. Where is the general signal coming from? Biden, too, And that I think most of the public got was like Biden got a pretty good deal like that. And so he looks pretty strong. And that was actually an unusual moment of Biden looking strong during a presidency where he often has not he has looked like he’s been floundering. This was one moment where he got to stand up and say—


Brian Beutler: I agree, I agree, like like the spin campaign they did after they handed [laughs] the $20 to the bully was very effective. I just think that like a from the outset. No, we’re like we’re done being pushed around is is better at it. It would help Democrats avoid further extortion fights and it would be the ultimate best politics because literally all you are saying, you literally say those words to the camera like we are done being pushed around and I’m going to protect the United States from bullies like you is like there’s no there’s no downside to it. 


Jordan Weissmann: And I’ll just say again, it’s easier to do when your antagonist is Ted Cruz. That’s that’s just— [laughter]


Brian Beutler: All right, gentlemen. This was a lot of fun. You’re both very sporting, A, for like arguing with each other and, B, for sitting in on our experiment here. I had a great time. Let’s do it again. 


Jordan Weissmann: Thanks for having me on man. 


David Dayen: Thanks a lot. [music plays]


Brian Beutler: Positively Dreadful is a Crooked Media production. Our executive producer is Michael Martinez, our associate producer is Emma Illick-Frank, and our guest associate producer is Rebecca Rottenberg. Our intern is Naomi Birenbaum. Evan Sutton mixes and edits the show each week. Our theme music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.