By Irv Randolph
Many conservatives and progressives finally found something they agree on. They hate the debt ceiling deal.
The deal suspends the nation’s debt limit through Jan. 1, 2025, caps non-defense spending, expands work requirements for some food stamp recipients and takes back some COVID-19 relief funds.
Congress rushed to approve the bill this week and averted a catastrophic default ahead of the expected June 5 deadline.
While the agreement is flawed, the deal is probably the best that can be made now for America under a divided government.
President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy struck a deal that managed to unite lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in opposition.
Some progressives opposed the deal because of the inclusion of new work requirements in two government assistance programs, as well as spending caps.
Some conservatives opposed the deal because they believe it does not reduce spending enough.
The agreement reached by Biden, McCarthy and a small group of their deputies is a two-year budget deal that would essentially hold spending flat for 2024, while boosting it for defense and veterans and capping increases at 1% for 2025. It would suspend the debt limit until January 2025, after the next presidential election. Republicans had insisted on reducing spending and had passed their own bill with much larger cuts last month.
The bill raises the age limit for existing work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, or SNAP. It creates a new agency to develop and streamline environmental reviews that Republicans have complained about for decades.
The new work requirements for able-bodied SNAP recipients without dependents would phase in by 2025 and expire by 2030. And a provision pushed by Biden would take some vulnerable recipients — like veterans and the homeless — off work requirements entirely. Republicans were successful in pushing more people to work in exchange for government benefits.
The bill also amends the National Environmental Policy Act and designates “a single lead agency” to develop environmental reviews, in hopes of streamlining the process.
The hardliners in both parties think their leaders gave in to the other side.
The reality is that Biden and McCarthy had little choice but to give in to something the other did not want. The Democrats control the presidency and narrowly control the Senate. The Republicans control the House. Until either party has a clear majority they have to negotiate.
The talk of Biden invoking the 14th Amendment and bypassing Republicans did not materialize. That proposal would be legally risky. It could also set a dangerous precedent. If Republicans regain control of the presidency they could bypass negotiations with Democrats and impose drastic cuts to social programs.
Significant change is needed in the future. Safeguards need to be put in place so that irresponsible politicians cannot use the debt ceiling debate to hold the nation hostage.
Biden has said he may at a later date declare the nation’s borrowing limit incompatible with the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which says that the federal government’s debts must be paid.
A deal had to be done.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said last week that the United States could run out of cash to pay the bills and default on its obligations if the debt ceiling is not raised by June 5. This would have had dire consequences for the U.S. and international economy.