Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
January 17, 2022
Today the bill for the elevation of Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to House speaker began to come due. McCarthy promised the far-right members of his conference committee seats and far more power in Congress to persuade them to vote for him.
Now they are collecting.
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who was removed from committee assignments in the last Congress for her racist and antisemitic conspiracy theories as well as her encouragement of violence against Democrats, has a spot on the Homeland Security Committee. Such spots are usually filled by those with experience in either the military or intelligence, neither of which she has. And security is an odd fit for her: voters in her district tried to get her disqualified from running in 2022 because of her participation in the attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.
Greene has not just that plum assignment, but another on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee. That committee manages investigations and has emerged as a coveted spot for the far right as its members prepare to go after figures in the Biden administration. It now includes right-wing figures Greene, Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Scott Perry (R-PA), Byron Donalds (R-FL), and Gary Palmer (R-AL), all of whom refused to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s 2020 election.
Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who was removed from committees two years ago after threatening Democratic lawmakers on social media, is now back on the Natural Resources committee. He also is now on the Oversight Committee.
The elevation of newer representatives over their more senior colleagues caused hard feelings. Tara Palmeri of Puck reported today that Vern Buchanan (R-FL), who was in line to become the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, confronted McCarthy for putting McCarthy ally Jason Smith (R-MO) in the spot instead. “You f*cked me, I know it was you, you whipped against me,” Buchanan told McCarthy.
There were rumors that Buchanan would consider resigning over the slight, and McCarthy cannot afford to lose any Republicans. His desperation is clear in his embrace of George Santos (R-NY), whom McCarthy appointed to two committees: the House Committee on Small Business and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Santos is facing pressure to resign as his campaign lies appear to include shady financing.
But in an op-ed today at NBC News, Santos’s fellow New York representative Democrat Ritchie Torres noted: The presence of this man in Congress is a danger to our democracy and national security, a disgrace to this institution, and a major distraction from the pressing problems that are far more worthy of our time, energy and attention,” but the Republican Party will not disavow him because “House Speaker Kevin McCarthy needs every vote he can get, and he needs George Santos to remain in power.”
House Republicans also appear to be prepared to move forward with an impeachment of Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. This is part of the Republican focus on applications for asylum at the southern border despite their recent refusal to consider updating legislation, as Mayorkas has repeatedly asked them to. Only once before has a Cabinet secretary been impeached—in 1876—and he was acquitted by the Senate. Two others resigned before impeachment votes were taken, the most recent in 1932.
Greene has her sights set even higher. She called today for the impeachment of President Biden, advising him on Twitter to “resign now.”
McCarthy also agreed that he would not agree to raise the debt ceiling unless Congress cuts $130 billion in spending for next year, a demand that amounts to taking the nation and the world economy hostage to overturn measures that Congress has already agreed to. Once again, the debt ceiling is not about future spending, it is about paying the debts Congress has already incurred. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling means the United States will default, wreaking havoc on international markets and our own global standing.
But the right wing appears willing to burn down the global economy and to destroy our place in it to impose their will on the country.
Emboldened, the far right is already insisting it will not raise the debt ceiling. Today, Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who was involved in the planning for January 6, tweeted, “We cannot raise the debt ceiling. Democrats have carelessly spent our taxpayer money and devalued our currency. They’ve made their bed, so they must lie in it.”
In fact, the national debt skyrocketed under Republican president Donald Trump even before the pandemic, thanks to the big tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated would increase deficits by almost $2 trillion over eleven years. In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the debt had grown to $22 trillion. Trump called it a crisis, but his budget that year increased the debt to $23.2 trillion. The CBO warned that the U.S. had never seen deficits so large in a time of high employment.
And then the coronavirus hit, and the debt jumped to $27.75 trillion.
At 5.2% of GDP, the growth of the deficit under Trump was third largest in our history, behind only that under Presidents George W. Bush—who launched two unfunded wars after passing a tax cut and thus presided over deficit growth of 11.7%—and Abraham Lincoln, whose Treasury had to invent a way to pay for a civil war out of whole cloth, resulting in the deficit growing by 9.4% of GDP.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the Treasury will hit the debt ceiling on Thursday but can extend extraordinary measures to keep functioning until June. McCarthy has called for Democrats to talk with him about a plan that will permit an increase in the debt limit while cutting Medicare, Social Security, and federal agencies.
Biden and administration officials say they will not negotiate with the right-wing Republicans who are trying to get their way not through normal legislative channels, but by holding the government—and the global economy—hostage