See more of the story

Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


To their credit, President Joe Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy have succeeded in striking a deal to avert a rapidly looming default on the nation's debt.

That deal survived its most difficult test Wednesday night — a House floor vote in which Democrats actually put up more votes than Republicans for the deal McCarthy had engineered. The Senate then passed the bill on Thursday evening.

Those votes are a testament to their willingness to put the country's needs first, and to put a premium on bipartisanship that has marked Biden's presidency. That leadership style has been in stark contrast to his predecessor, who vilified opponents. Biden's strategy has paid off for him in notable big policy wins, and the same appears to be holding true in this latest crisis.

Biden did not get the clean debt ceiling vote he had said was his goal. But he will, for the most part, have succeeded in tamping down the most expansive Republican demands while preserving the nation's financial standing.

McCarthy, for his part, is in a far more tenuous position. His is quite possibly the most precarious speakership in U.S. history. It took him a humiliating 14 votes and major concessions to his power just to obtain the post. Yet, he has forged a deal with Biden that offers his caucus some modest victories but is not so severe as to alienate the Democratic votes he knew he would need.

Predictably, opposition within McCarthy's own caucus has been fierce, ugly and unreasoning. This is, after all, a manufactured crisis. No other country imposes such an arbitrary limit on debt, in a way so easily weaponized. And yet, here we are, the world's largest and richest economy, brought to the brink of an unthinkable default.

The ceiling itself is at odds with the 14th Amendment, which states that "the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned." Every time the U.S. approaches its limits, the ceiling has been lifted, making it a pointless exercise that invites the worst kind of politicization. When a Republican is president, including Donald Trump, Republicans have voted unquestioningly to lift it. When Democrats hold the presidency, it's a different story.

In this latest "crisis," Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, policy director of the House Freedom Caucus, called the deal a "betrayal," while others called for McCarthy's removal, so incensed were they at the compromise.

The deal, by the way, is not insubstantial. It will inflict considerable pain in some areas. It would claw back billions in unspent pandemic relief, slash IRS funding that would have been used to modernize the system, increase customer service and, yes, improve enforcement. It would restart federal student loan payments and impose work requirements on childless individuals up to 55 years old who are on food assistance, with exemptions for veterans and the homeless. The deal also would streamline environmental permitting for some projects. In return, the debt ceiling would be suspended until January 2025.

The deal was not the wholesale reversal of Biden policies that some Republicans had sought. Rather, it was a carefully constructed compromise in which each side got something and each gave up something. That is the essence of compromise.

And that's how it should be: A bipartisan agreement, forged by opposing leaders with deep differences that of necessity must draw support from both sides to pass. Notably, Minnesota Republican Reps. Michelle Fischbach and Brad Finstad voted against the deal, despite Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's warning that the nation faced default by June 5. Republican Reps. Tom Emmer, majority whip to McCarthy, and Pete Stauber voted for it, as did Democratic Reps. Betty McCollum, Dean Phillips and Ilhan Omar. (Rep. Angie Craig did not vote because she suffered an injury and was unable to travel.)

Ultimately, this triumph of centrism may bode well for Biden and McCarthy's future dealings. They were forced to negotiate, to work together and to sell the deal to their respective members. This is not the last tough situation the two will face as they prepare to deal with government funding, defense spending, a difficult farm bill and other legislation.

Regrettably, for all its high drama, this deal is but a temporary fix. The real problem is the debt ceiling itself. Both parties should recognize that even as they seek leverage, some tools are just too dangerous to use.