Counting Debt Deal Votes

Terry Schwadron
4 min readMay 30


Terry H. Schwadron

May 31, 2023

We’re just shy of the whip counts, pressure campaigns, and last-minute, high-stakes lobbying efforts to get this no-one-quite-happy debt ceiling deal through Congress. Speaker Kevin McCarthy has promised a three-day window for reading and consideration — something he doesn’t do unless he is forced to approve.

We’re in the noise-making phase — loud but uncounted. Despite the gravity of this unnecessary, manufactured financial crisis, the outcome in Congress remains in doubt, with groups of the most-Right Republicans and the most-Left Democrats each threatening to pull away. The deal is, as one summary said,more narrow than Republicans hoped and Democrats feared it would be.

So far, we have not seen a formal enumeration of where the votes are between the two parties to put 218 votes in the House and 60 in the Senate together. But we all know that the political pros know and are matching their mouths with their tally sheets.

Anyone in Congress planning to vote no on the compromise package had best be prepared to defend it publicly, since most Americans clearly just want the whole issue to go away — and we were never going to get a vote on the fine details in any case.

If you’re a Freedom Caucus/MAGA Republican upset that you’re not dictating the outcome of every issue that comes up in Washington, perhaps you should update your reality medicine. If nothing else, this sorry excuse for governing that we’ve watched you cause ought to persuade you that the wheels of government turn on understanding the details as well as offering some unhinged slogans.

And if you’re busy defending the progressive barricades, you have only yourselves to blame for not securing those five critical House seats that would have retained a Democratic majority in the House. You lost critical House seats in New York State, of all places, to Republicans who included the hapless George Santos, because you allowed Republicans to paint the elections with overhyped fears of rampant crime figures that are hard to even see in most of these districts.

Clearly, It’s About Crowing

The deal has something for each side to use in its campaign messages, which seemed closer to a reason for picking the fight in the first place — including the always mercurial Sen. Joe Manchin, who somehow got a promise to complete a pipeline into the legislative text

If Republicans cared about balancing the budget and reducing the federal debt, they’d be looking at the tax cuts and loopholes that they refuse to recognize. And if Democrats cared about their professed defense of social service spending, they’d have taken care of the debt ceiling while they still had the House majority, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had proposed.

Now they can both grit their teeth, swallow this compromise, and move on to the name and blame-calling that they truly want.

For American voters, businesses, citizens, none of this debate is serving economic interests or security or altering the price of eggs and milk. This entire debt ceiling set-to is a self-serving plateful of political positioning in a Congress that has become increasingly unable to do anything substantive because of its sharp divisions.

Indeed, the big less of the debt ceiling melee and proposed resolution is that our political toolsets of gerrymandering, campaign money, and healthy dollops of misinformation have built in such congressional splits well into the future. The results of the vast number of congressional elections already are structurally baked in for one party, and the outcome of only a miniscule number of districts will settle which side has a small majority for another two years. Add in the craziness of rules as in the Senate where a “majority” is 60 of 100 rather than 50 on most items, and we have a guaranteed lock on inaction.

No Time Left

There is no time for this bill to be sent back to McCarthy and Joe Biden for re-negotiation. The political winds have dictated that too.

The quicker this chapter ends, the sooner we can reopen the same questions with the annual budget on the block instead of a mechanism that threatens financial disaster through an artificial debt ceiling that looks backwards on bills already incurred.

The fact that the stickiest issue here is whether people already needy enough to deserve food stamps or health care will be required to show additional proof of disability or of efforts to find work should tell us a lot about the degree to which this is an issue of balancing financial books or about some perceived culture skirmish.

The themes of this debt ceiling debate already are in heavy circulation in the Republican presidential primary conversations. Donald Trump has pushed Republicans in Congress to risk global financial disaster to get their way, seconded by Republicans in Congress who talk openly of holding the White House “hostage.” In their zeal to offer themselves as Trump alternatives, the various challengers are talking about doing away with income taxes altogether or revisiting why the government ever thought covid was a problem requiring substantial response.

Rewriting history — even recent history — is never a good idea.

Unless these congressmen want to explain to constituents one by one why there will be no Social Security check in the mail next week, we shouldn’t need whip counts.




Terry Schwadron

Journalist, musician, community volunteer