So far, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy are the only Republican presidential contenders to weigh in on the recent deal in Washington — but others could yet join them.
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Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has tried to outflank former President Donald J. Trump on the right.
The decision by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida to oppose the debt-ceiling agreement struck by Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden injected presidential politics into the fraught effort to raise the government’s borrowing limit, further dividing the Republican Party and pressuring other White House hopefuls to join the fight.
“Our country was careening toward bankruptcy” before the deal was struck, Mr. DeSantis said on “Fox and Friends” on Monday, “and after this deal, our country will still be careening toward bankruptcy.”
Congress has just days to raise the borrowing limit before the government goes into default on its debt. That would most likely set off a global financial crisis, which would call into question the full faith and credit of what has been the world’s safest investment (U.S. Treasury bonds) and potentially start a recession. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has predicted that the “extraordinary measures” she has used to pay the government’s obligations will be depleted by June 5.
Mr. DeSantis’s broadside comes as Mr. McCarthy is trying to round up Republican votes to approve the deal this week. The first test will be Tuesday, when the House committee that sets the parameters and instructions for floor debate is set to report out the rule for the debt deal. The deal sets aside the statutory borrowing limit for two years, ensuring the issue will not re-emerge before the next presidential election, while imposing some caps on spending and some additional work requirements for food stamp recipients.
But those concessions to the G.O.P. are minuscule compared with the wholesale rollbacks of Biden administration policy envisioned in a debt ceiling bill passed by the House.
A few hard-right conservatives have already come out against the deal, and on Tuesday, a more moderate Republican, Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina, announced that she, too, was a “no,” a bad sign for the deal. Democratic votes will be needed to pass it, but the work requirements and a green light in the deal for a West Virginia natural gas pipeline are likely to turn liberal Democrats against it.
That makes Mr. DeSantis’s opposition more significant. So far, former President Donald J. Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has stayed quiet. Mr. Trump has been kept abreast of the negotiations by Mr. McCarthy, whom the former president has called “my Kevin” and has kept as a close ally.
But as Mr. DeSantis, his closest competitor, tries to outflank him on the right, Mr. Trump will face pressure to follow the Florida governor’s lead, especially if far-right Republicans make good on threats to end Mr. McCarthy’s speakership over the deal. One of Mr. Trump’s loudest surrogates in the House, Representative Byron Donalds, Republican of Florida, has already come out against it.
“After I heard about the debt ceiling deal, I was a NO,” he wrote on Twitter on Monday. “After reading the debt ceiling deal, I am absolutely NO!!”
But beyond Mr. DeSantis, only the entrepreneur and writer Vivek Ramaswamy has come out against the deal. Other Republican presidential contenders have stayed quiet, holding their fire with the votes in Congress just days away. Senator Tim Scott, the South Carolina Republican who entered the race last week, will have to vote on the deal if it clears the House, which could happen as soon as Wednesday, but he has not divulged his position.
Mr. Trump’s rise in 2015 and 2016 ushered out an era when Republicans at least spoke of fiscal responsibility. He put an end to the party’s efforts to overhaul Social Security and Medicare to control the programs’ rising costs. His tax cuts in 2017 sent deficits skyward. They were accompanied by increases in military spending, then huge expenditures on coronavirus relief.
Deficits rose every year of the Trump presidency, from the $590 billion he inherited in the 2016 fiscal year to $670 billion in 2017, $780 billion in 2018, $980 billion the next year, then a staggering $3.13 trillion in the pandemic year of 2020. In all, budget forecasters say, Mr. Trump added $7.8 trillion in deficit spending over 10 years through legislation and executive orders during his four years in office.
That has given his rivals an opening that so far, only Mr. DeSantis has taken.
Jonathan Weisman is a Chicago-based political correspondent, veteran journalist and author of the novel “No. 4 Imperial Lane” and the nonfiction book “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump.” His career in journalism stretches back 30 years. @jonathanweisman
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