“MTG, Voice of Reason” is not a headline I ever thought I’d write. In fact, it’s disorienting to even type it.
But U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene won the title this week, for this moment, after dozens of Republicans and Democrats peeled off the bipartisan bill to lift the debt ceiling, but she and a handful of other far-right House members united behind House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to get it across the finish line.
“I live in reality, not conservative fantasyland,” she told reporters after voting yes for the bill, which passed the House 314 to 117. “The reality is that we barely control one-half of this house, which is only one-third of the federal government. So people (who) understand how to be successful and make deals that will actually work and are actually realistic… this is why we supported this.”
Everything Greene said there was accurate, as were the White House warnings that a deadline for government default loomed within days. Voting no and sending the bill down in defeat could have sent markets tumbling as soon as they opened Thursday morning, with a spike in borrowing rates not far behind.
But with House approval secured and Senators teed up to pass the bill through their chamber, disaster for the moment was averted, and you partially have MTG to thank for that.
The bill approved late Wednesday night passed with 149 Republicans and 165 Democrats on board. It would suspend the nation’s debt ceiling for two years while also limiting spending on Pentagon, student loan and food stamp programs. Each side had wins and losses, but partisans on both sides complained that their leaders, McCarthy and President Joe Biden respectively, had agreed to a raw deal.
Four Georgians — Republican U.S. Reps. Andrew Clyde, Mike Collins, and Rich McCormick, and Atlanta Democratic U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams voted no.
McCormick said the bill did too little to rein in Washington spending, while Williams said the limits to some social programs would “inflict cruel cuts to marginalized communities.”
Clyde called the McCarthy-Biden deal “fiscally irresponsible insanity” and told WDUN’s Martha Zoller, “We gave Speaker McCarthy a strong hand ... and we got rolled.”
But what none of the “nays” talked about was what they would have done if the outcome had depended on their vote alone. Were they willing to let the country go into default?
Greene, sounding perfectly reasonable again, said it would have been politically easier for her to vote against raising the debt ceiling as Clyde and Freedom Caucus members did. But she and other conservatives got a better bill for Republicans by staying at the negotiating table with Democrats.
“The bill isn’t perfect,” Greene said. “There’s a lot of things I don’t like, but we did cut spending and we’re saving the American people money and we have a toolbox with tools to do more, which I really care about.”
One of the tools in the toolbox would require Congress to pass appropriations bills one-by-one, instead of through the massive omnibus process.
The annual omnibus bills, which melt five, eight, or all 12 federal spending bills into one gigantic package, have become so massive that lobbyists wait for them, knowing they’re the very best place to tuck in anything unpopular, irresponsible, or unnecessary. Passing them individually prevents some of that and puts power back in the hands of appropriators, instead of the two leaders deciding the outcome.
But if you think good government and fiscal restraint are the only things Greene is getting in return for her loyalty to McCarthy this week, think again. She told reporters several times earlier this week that she mostly considered the compromise an “(expletive) sandwich,” so she needed some “dessert” to make the debt package more appetizing.
Moments after the bill passed the House, she said, “Dessert is looking really good right now. We just have to pick which recipe we want.”
Among the recipes on the menu for Greene would be the House formally beginning the impeachment process for President Joe Biden or one of the four administration officials she introduced articles of impeachment against last week.
Another possibility would be action on Greene’s “Protect Children’s Innocence Act,” a nationwide ban on gender-affirming care for minors similar to the law that Georgia Republicans passed this year, which LGBTQ advocates warned would do irreparable harm to transgender youth. Her bill would go even further and prevent any federal health insurance plans or facility from providing that care.
We’ll all find out soon which recipe McCarthy puts on the table to thank Greene for her loyalty. But in the meantime, take a moment to see the horse-trading, deal-making, and pure inside gaming that Greene has mastered to get to this moment, in what has to be record time. The Speaker of the House is as loyal to her as she is to him, and has favors yet to be paid back.
Is all of this ok with the voters who put her there after she ran as an outsider promising to fix Washington? She thinks so.
“They don’t want to default,” she said of her constituents. “There’s a lot of small businesses in my district that don’t want to have financial problems. We don’t want to see our bonds downgraded. We don’t want to see any kind of economic failure or bank problems coming from a default. I think that’s really important.”
In the end, Greene may have helped McCarthy more than almost anyone by giving political cover for other conservatives to come along. Nobody is going to call this a RINO bill with MTG voting yes.
And hours after the vote, she was back to the familiar far-right persona she’s far more famous for, blaming Nancy Pelosi for January 6 instead of Donald Trump, but with McCarthy’s deal done.
One of the questions I hear most about Greene, especially from people offended by her, is whether she’s “crazy or crazy like a fox?”
Based on this week alone, MTG has been an entirely rational, ruthlessly strategic actor. She’s not only playing the game, she may be winning it.