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Debt Ceiling Score Keeping

State of the Union: For all the inside baseball, the debt ceiling was a win for Democrats for one simple reason.

Congressional Republicans Host Bicameral Debt Crisis News Conference

In Hollywood, the writers are striking. Their demands are familiar to the blue-collar worker movements they’re trying to mimic: better wages, better job security. Writers in Washington are always looking for the same—this writer is fortunate to have both. But why not create a little extra job security by dressing up or ever so slightly over complicating some political issues every now and then?

Okay, I’m being a bit cheeky. Yes, our nation’s problems are complex, so are the solutions (now you don’t know if I’m being serious or not). But sometimes, politics is really quite simple. When considering a piece of legislation, if more members of one party vote in favor than the other, it’s pretty safe to assume that bill benefits one party more than the other. If that bill is signed into law, it’s probably a win for the party that supported it. It’s even more impressive when a party in the minority manages to accomplish this feat.

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And that’s precisely what ended up happening with the debt ceiling recently. For all the complexity, the negotiations, the inside baseball—which I’ve written at length about for this magazine—when it comes down to it, more Democrats supported President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s deal than Republicans.

In the House, Democrats voted for the debt ceiling deal 165 to 46, with two members not voting. Republicans voted 149 in favor, 71 against—again, two not voting.

The story repeated in the Chuck Scumer-led Senate. The Senate had done nothing to influence or shape the debt ceiling debate. As Rep. Scott Perry previously told me, “We [House Republicans] passed the bill [the Limit, Save, Grow Act], and now we need to know what they can pass. We've already done our work. We did our work last month, knowing that this was coming and knowing that somebody had to be sensible and responsible.”

But, ultimately, the Senate really didn’t have to do anything for Democratic leadership to get its way. The debt ceiling deal passed by a vote of 63 to 36, with only Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee not voting. While 17 Republicans voted in favor of the deal, 46 Democrats voted in favor. Of the 36 no votes, 31 came from Senate Republicans.

Between the two chambers, a total of 211 Democrats voted for the debt ceiling deal, while only 166 Republicans voted yes.

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Some would have you believe that had there been more funding for Ukraine, Senate Republicans would have overwhelmingly voted in favor.

Maybe it’s hard to blame them, given Sen. Lindsay Graham’s antics on the Senate floor. “To my House colleagues, I can’t believe you did this,” Graham, who had just returned from a trip to Ukraine where he boasted about the number of dead Russians, chided. “I want a commitment from the leaders of this body that we’re not pulling the plug on Ukraine. There’s not a penny in this bill for future efforts to help Ukraine defeat Russia.” Alligators across the country were moved to tears.

Would Graham really have folks believe that Congress is having a tough time forking more taxpayer dollars over to Ukraine? By the looks of it, that’s the only thing Congress has managed to do in the past year: It has already appropriated about $100 billion to help Ukraine since the war began. The Pentagon continues to regularly shell out aid packages with nine-figure price tags to Kiev. Yet, the front continues to creep West.

Sure, Graham was a no, as were other hawks like Sens. Tom Cotton and James Risch. But look a bit more closely at the list of no votes and you’ll find Sen. Ron Johnson, Sen. John Kennedy, and Sens. Tommy Tubberville and Katie Britt of Alabama. Some of them support Ukraine more than others, but are doves compared to the likes of Graham. Two senators who routinely warn against the rise of China, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Josh Hawley, the former more supportive of Ukraine than the latter, were both nos. Then there are the usual suspects: senators such as Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and J.D. Vance.

If the assertion that Republicans would have united behind the deal if it provided Ukraine more funding is true, more to Republicans' shame. We’ll never know—you can’t prove a hypothetical. Maybe not Ukraine alone, but national security concerns more broadly, played a role in the vote total. 

In this case, however, all indications point to the simple, more direct answer being the correct one: The debt ceiling did little to curb government spending now and in the future, so Republicans voted no.