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Democrats and Republicans campaign operatives are translating the wonky debt limit debate into campaign trail fodder.
Both sides see the ongoing fiscal fight as a way to target vulnerable members of Congress and lay the groundwork for bigger messaging pushes as 2024 draws closer. It comes as the House Republicans passed a partisan debt plan this week that would only allow for raising the debt ceiling if steep spending cuts are made.
Republicans are using the battle to link Democrats to the fiscal views of President Biden, who refuses to negotiate over the cuts but want the debt ceiling raised. The Democrats, meanwhile, are focused on highlighting the impacts of proposed GOP cuts (H.R. 2811) on healthcare, education and the environment.
Both sides are already spending several hundred thousand dollars on ads to carry out those strategies.
The American Action Network, which is closely aligned with GOP leadership, launched a six-figure digital ad buy on Friday in 14 districts, including Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries’ (D-N.Y.) district. The ad shows clips of Biden, as well as former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Jeffries while a voice over says Democrats “refuse to responsibly raise the debt ceiling” and “voted against reducing America’s debt keeping us reliant on China.”
On the other side, House Majority Forward, which is affiliated with House Democrats, released a TV ad this week highlighting cuts to education, environmental aid for air and water and cancer research, under the GOP’s debt limit package. The ad ran in six New York districts expected to be competitive in 2024.
While the ads only ran the day of the vote, it’s only the latest ad buy from the group targeting swing-district Republicans on the debt limit. Other Democratic groups, like the League of Conservation Voters, have also launched ad campaigns on the debt limit.
The ads are only the opening salvo. More are expected as lawmakers inch closer to the X-date where the U.S. will be unable to pay its bills.
Both messages are meant to feed into larger narratives the parties are constructing in the run-up to 2024.
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Will Reinert said the NRCC would highlight those “extremist House Democrats” that would “would rather see the country barrel towards the first default in our nation’s history than suggest Biden should negotiate.”
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Tommy Garcia said the campaign arm would focus on what programs could be axed through the Republican plan, even if what was passed in the House this week won’t ultimately become law.
“Vulnerable Republicans are helping build the case against themselves for 2024,” he said in a statement.
Lawmakers for now seem more focused on the fine print of the debt limit legislation than voters.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a swing district Republican, said voters tend to “cast a vote on the big picture” and his constituents wanted to see both sides working toward a solution.
Biden refusing to meet with McCarthy “is a kind of gamesmanship that people my district can’t stand, people in America can’t stand,” Fitzpatrick said.
Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.), a GOP lawmaker from a swing district, made a similar point, conceding his party would not get “everything” in the bill, but it should at least be a starting point for bipartisan negotiations.
Democrats are unfazed by the Republican criticism of Biden, whose popularity numbers have consistently been below 50%.
Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) who is expected to face a tough race next year, said her constituents are fiscally conservative and she’s not surprised they’d want to rein in spending. But she’s not worried about GOP attempts to connect her to Biden.
“They spent almost $14 million trying to tie me to President Biden last cycle, and they failed,” she said. “I don’t know what they think is different now.”
Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), another vulnerable Democrat, said the debt limit “has not caught on as a topic among mainstream constituents” but “probably will as we really get into this ugly battle.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at email@example.com