White House fired up over Freedom Caucus budget ahead of debt ceiling fight

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House Freedom Caucus members talk to reporters about the federal debt limit during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 22, 2023 in Washington, DC. The conservative Republicans were critical of President Joe Biden’s federal budget proposal and repeated their slogan, “shrink Washington and grow America,” while demanding that spending cuts go hand-in-hand with raising the debt limit. (Graeme Jennings / Washington Examiner)

White House fired up over Freedom Caucus budget ahead of debt ceiling fight

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The White House is invoking Adam Smith against congressional Republicans ahead of a showdown over the debt ceiling.

“Goodbye invisible hand — and hello angry MAGA fist?” That was the opening line of a statement by White House spokeswoman Robyn Patterson appended to President Joe Biden’s veto message after he blocked a Republican anti-ESG bill.

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“Meddling in private markets through adherence to an extreme MAGA ideology prevents fiduciaries from making fully informed investment decisions,” she wrote. “It jeopardizes the hard-earned life savings and pensions for tens of millions of cops, firefighters, teachers, and other workers across the country.”

Those firefighters may come in handy against a budget proposal by a group of House conservatives. “The extreme MAGA Republican House Freedom Caucus proposal will be a five-alarm fire for families — including by hurting seniors,” the White House said in a statement.

“We [will] use this week to show how the MAGA House Freedom Caucus budget proposal will be a five-alarm fire for hardworking Americans,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at a briefing.

Earlier that week, Jean-Pierre said: “The Freedom Caucus’s MAGA Budget Proposal is a Five-Alarm Fire for hardworking families. Extreme MAGA House Republicans would endanger public safety, raise costs for families, ship manufacturing jobs overseas, weaken our national security, and hurt our seniors.”

A separate White House official teased “a fact sheet with new analysis highlighting the five-alarm fire that the House Freedom Caucus proposal means for seniors across the country.”

Biden’s team first ratcheted up the rhetoric in the run-up to the midterm elections, during which Democrats avoided the massive losses some forecasters predicted. But Republicans took the House, setting up a series of legislative and policy confrontations between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The debt ceiling is going to be the most important of these fights. The GOP wants to lower spending in exchange for raising the statutory borrowing limit. Biden wants a clean increase in the debt ceiling, which the White House points out was granted under former President Donald Trump, without haggling over spending cuts.

This dispute is also not purely performative or a mere set-up for the elections in 2024, when House Republicans will be defending their majority and Biden will likely be seeking a second term. There are economic ramifications if officials fail to extend the debt ceiling by sometime this summer, and a previous showdown along these lines (when Biden was former President Barack Obama‘s vice president) resulted in a credit downgrade, even though a deal was struck to avert default.

The president would obviously reap some political benefit from being able to pin a similar setback on Republicans. Nevertheless, he needs a healthy economy to give him the best chance to win reelection.

Biden and his deputies have been arguing for months that Republicans are holding the debt ceiling hostage to force draconian budget cuts, especially to popular entitlement programs. Their target has long been Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) and his proposal to sunset federal laws after five years, which he has since amended to exempt Social Security and Medicare.

Now it is the Freedom Caucus and its spending cut demands that have set the White House ablaze rhetorically. “It cuts veterans benefits,” Biden said of the group’s budget in his remarks at a Democratic National Committee reception. “It won’t cut subsidies for Big Pharma.”

It is a bid to divide the Freedom Caucus from the rest of the House GOP conference — and perhaps Senate Republicans. The latter approach worked once in the omnibus fight, allowing Democrats to set spending levels prior to losing control of the House.

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) hasn’t released the GOP’s budget proposal yet despite Biden and Democratic congressional leaders practically baiting him to do so. Consequently, the Freedom Caucus’s blueprint fills the vacuum and allows Biden to try to define Republicans on spending.

The White House communications team is increasingly doing so with a certain amount of flair, extending the MAGA critique (the product of a six-month study led by senior adviser Anita Dunn) to GOP budget-cutters.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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