Debt Ceiling

Dear Friends,

As you are probably aware, last night the House passed a deal to raise the national debt limit in time to avoid the possibility of default. The deal that was struck is not balanced and doesn't come close to a compromise. I could not support it.

The legislation that was passed addresses the debt ceiling in two phases. Every penny of savings in the first round comes from spending cuts; new revenue is not part of the agreement and probably never will be.

For the first two years of this plan, cuts will be divided equally between military and non-military spending. After that, however, the requirement that the cuts be equitably distributed ends — so every penny of cuts could come from non-military spending. Once again, the burden will fall on programming that helps some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Incredibly, the spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is exempted from cuts. The same would go for any other similar spending if we were to go into Libya or any other country.

This proposal will not create a single job. In fact, there is no way to achieve the level of cuts required without cutting jobs. And that doesn't just mean government jobs. Private sector jobs supported with federal funds will also be impacted, such as contractors who build our roads and fix our bridges and researchers studying diseases.

For those reasons, I simply could not support the agreement. I thought long and hard about my vote, but in the final analysis it came down to standing up for the role I believe government can and should play in our lives.

The first phase of the deal to raise the debt ceiling comes immediately. The second phase will come later this year from a Joint Committee of Congress charged with identifying an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction. The Committee must issue its report by Thanksgiving and Congress has a month to vote it up or down. If the Committee doesn't finalize a plan or if Congress doesn't act by the deadline, across-the-board spending cuts will be implemented in order to raise the debt ceiling again.

I have little faith that new revenue will be included in any plan that the Joint Committee prepares. In fact, Speaker Boehner has essentially promised exactly that.

However, the Administration has stated that everything will be on the negotiating table during the next round — and that means Social Security, Medicare, fuel assistance, children's nutrition programs, veterans' services, senior housing and other essential programs.

According to a White House Fact Sheet, this debt agreement "reduces domestic discretionary spending to the lowest level since Eisenhower." I don't see this as a positive point. During the Eisenhower years there was no Medicare or Medicaid, no Anti-Poverty Programs, no child nutrition programs, no senior housing, and little scientific research. The country is slowly recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression, we are involved in two wars, and federal spending is as low as it's been since the 1950's?

Please note that I have voted twice in the past few months to raise the debt ceiling. I voted for a "clean" debt ceiling increase in May. On Saturday, I reluctantly voted in favor of Senate Majority Leader Reid's proposal. That plan would have imposed trillions of dollars in cuts — but it would have protected Medicare and Social Security, it would have subjected our spending in Iraq and Afghanistan to scrutiny and it would have considered revenue increases as a viable option. Both of these proposals failed.

As these votes prove, I am willing to fulfill our responsibility to pay the bills we have already incurred and I am willing to compromise on how we go about doing that. However, I am not willing to violate basic principles of fairness and justice for the sake of getting a deal.

Two facts are important to note. First, the US is one of only two countries in the world that even have a statutory debt limit (the other is Denmark — and their limit is astronomically high). This crisis is self-imposed and unique.

Second, I believe that if Congress had refused this proposal, the President could have used the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to avoid default. At our Democratic Caucus meeting on Monday, Vice President Biden said that although the legality of such a move was questionable and the Administration would rather not invoke it, the President was prepared to use it if necessary. At the very least, such an approach would have delayed default, allowed more time for negotiations and proven the President's willingness to fight for important principles.

The debt ceiling passed the Senate today and the President signed it. I voted NO in the House and the entire vote is recorded below:





















The next battles will come in September when Congress starts implementing the $900 billion in cuts required in this law. Although this step will be tough, I believe it can be accomplished with limited damage. However, later this year we must consider the next $1.5 trillion in cuts — I think this step will be extremely difficult for everyone. I do not look forward to those battles, but I am ready to stand tall to defend our principles.

Thanks for your activism on this issue. I've appreciated hearing from you as this debate played out.