After months of argument, temper tantrums and harsh rhetoric, Congress made the monumental decision to pay America’s bills – generations of debt obligations. Since 1960, “clean” debt ceiling legislation has been passed 78 times: 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents. This time, the debate and the decision making process almost led America into default as the Republican Tea Party members of Congress gambled with our economy.
It didn’t have to be this way. Congress voted on a clean debt ceiling increase on May 31, 2011, to prevent this crisis. That legislation had my support, but it was overwhelmingly defeated by Republicans and Democrats.
After weeks of inaction by the House Republican majority to avert default, I introduced my own bill, the Don’t Default on America’s Debts and Destroy America’s Job Act (H.R. 2544). This bill would have raised the debt ceiling while also calling on Congress to cancel its August recess in order to produce legislation that creates jobs, grows the economy and reduces long-term budget deficits. Then, on July 30th – only days before the August 2nd default deadline — again I voted to increase the debt ceiling, as well as protect Social Security and Medicare, cut future deficits by $2.2 trillion, and end funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That measure, Senator Harry Reid’s Bipartisan Budget Control Act was unanimously voted against by the Tea Party Republicans.
While I supported each of these bills to solve the Republican-manufactured debt default crisis, I strongly opposed the final agreement. The Budget Control Act Agreement (S. 365) was the product of an absurd and disturbing political process, which will most unfortunately become the norm as long the Tea Party controls the U.S. House and President Barack Obama is in the White House.
Economy held hostage
For the first time ever, one of America’s political parties showed itself willing to throw the nation into default on our debt obligations for the sake of politics. By holding the U.S. economy hostage to an increase in the debt ceiling hostage, the Tea Party Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives imperiled millions of jobs, businesses and the economic well-being all Americans.
I am not alone in this sentiment. A nonpartisan publication, the National Journal, declared that America has “entered a new era of government at gunpoint.” I also agreed with Wall Street Journal editors who criticized the House majority’s conduct during this process by saying, “Republicans are not looking like adults to whom voters can entrust the government.”
The legislation that House Republicans forced on the White House and the American people will slash trillions of dollars of investments at exactly the moment when more investment is needed to prevent the U.S. economy from sliding back into recession. Education, infrastructure, health research, public safety, clean energy and every other middle-class priority will see cuts as a result of this bill. Unfortunately, many Americans, particularly women and children, who depend on emergency nutritional support from Women, Infants and Children (WIC), use Head Start as an early childhood learning center for their children, or depend on a community clinic for health care will also see deep cuts to these valuable community services.
A recent editorial in the New York Times argued that this deal will “hinder an economic recovery.” At a time when 14.6 million Americans are unemployed and economic growth has slowed to a crawl, why is Congress passing legislation that will “hinder an economic recovery?”
Will make job crisis even worse
Tying massive cuts to a debt ceiling increase was completely unnecessary, totally counterproductive. It can only make America’s job crisis even worse. With the passage of this legislation, Republicans are tossing the heavy burden of deficit reduction onto America’s middle class without asking for even one dollar of sacrifice from the nation’s wealthiest individuals or corporations.
While I could not support this agreement, President Obama and Democratic leaders deserve credit for their perseverance and determination prevent mutually assured economic destruction. Their efforts protected the economy from the unthinkable consequences of default and shielded Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from relentless Republican attempt to make deep cuts. President Obama was forced to negotiate this agreement with radical Republicans who proved all too willing to send the economy into default. He was in a nearly impossible position. The president did what the nation required in order to avert economic disaster, but the dangerous and irresponsible negotiating tactics from Republican congressional leaders set a destructive tone for all future negotiations.
This is a bad agreement on almost every level, most of all because it forces a broken bargain that avoids economic collapse at the cost of an even slower and more painful economic recovery. It may even return the nation to recession. It also demonstrates a clear path forward for on-going congressional dysfunction.
The era of government at gunpoint has truly arrived. Minnesota families and businesses deserve much better.
Rep. Betty McCollum represents Minnesota’s Fourth Congressional District. She serves on the House Appropriations and Budget Committees.