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News / Northwest

Pramila Jayapal to vote against debt limit deal, only Wash. member of Congress opposed so far

By David Gutman, The Seattle Times (TNS)
Published: May 31, 2023, 5:08pm

SEATTLE—U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, leader of the 101-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, is voting no on the deal to raise the nation’s debt limit.

But Jayapal, whose caucus includes nearly half of all Democrats in the U.S. House, wants to be clear on one thing: The deal will pass without her vote and if they needed her vote she’d likely vote yes.

“They do not need my vote to pass this bill,” Jayapal, a Democrat from West Seattle said Wednesday, ahead of the vote. “It’s really important that people understand that this was a negotiation that was done at gunpoint. The American people were held hostages by the Republicans.”

The debt limit, which the country is expected to hit next week, barring congressional action, caps the amount of debt the country can incur. But Congress has already authorized spending in excess of the debt limit. Economists warn that failure to make debt payments — to pay the country’s bills — could have cataclysmic effects on the global economy, including plunging it into recession.

Republicans, who control the House, have been demanding spending and policy concessions in exchange for voting to raise the debt limit.

Jayapal is, so far, the only member of Washington’s 10-person House delegation to announce opposition to the bill. A vote is expected Wednesday evening.

The deal struck between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy raises the debt limit in exchange for limiting non-defense discretionary spending for two years, adding work requirements for food stamps for childless adults ages 50-54 and claws back some of the increase in IRS funding that Democrats passed last year.

Jayapal credited Biden for “keeping out the worst things” that Republicans had sought in the bill. But she also said she wished he’d more seriously considered using the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to say that he would not default on the nation’s debt and declare the debt limit invalid.

She said she’d had a number of discussions with other House progressives and expected a “significant number” of no votes. In particular, Jayapal objected to how the deal cleared roadblocks for a major new natural gas pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia and the imposition of work requirements for food stamps.

“It is fundamentally, essentially preserving tax breaks for the wealthiest and making poor people pay for that,” she said.

Republicans hold a slim four-seat majority in the House and the bill will require significant support from both parties in order to pass. If the House passes the deal, it would next head to the Senate which would also need to give its approval.

“For me, it is really important that we have a very strong no vote, that it is clear that this kind of hostage-taking cannot continue,” Jayapal said.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, said he will vote yes and likened the deal to a fairly routine annual budget bill, albeit one struck with the high-stakes brinkmanship of a looming default.

“The extreme Republicans took us to the brink of default, and Joe Biden managed to lead us back,” Smith said in an interview. “Beyond that, for the most part, this is a pretty standard budget deal.”

“This is something we would have negotiated, and the only difference is the Republicans chose to take a hostage, a very, very dangerous hostage for the American people.”

Smith, unlike Jayapal, said invoking the 14th Amendment would have invited an immediate lawsuit and the nation could have defaulted while the issue played out in the courts. The 14th Amendment says the debt of the United States “shall not be questioned” and experts differ on whether that language could be interpreted as deeming the debt limit unconstitutional.

Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said he would vote for the deal, but wasn’t thrilled about it.

“I’m often in the position of having to either hold my nose and vote yes or hold my nose and vote no,” Kilmer said in a prepared statement. “I also think it’s important for America to pay its bills. Failing to address the debt ceiling is like choosing not to make the minimum payment on a credit card — you can make that choice, but it will have disastrous consequences.”

He said he was pleased the deal doesn’t cut programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits.

Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, also intended to vote yes, saying she wouldn’t “let perfect be the enemy of good when the stakes are this high.”

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“Compromise means that no one gets everything they want,” DelBene said in a statement. “The worse outcome here is default.”

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, said he would vote yes as a “necessary step to prevent catastrophic default.”

He noted that the package fully funds veterans benefits and doesn’t cut the investments in climate and energy programs passed by Democrats last year.

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