WASHINGTON — As the debt ceiling talks reached a critical point this week, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th District, and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus sought to have their voices heard, hoping to influence the public and shift momentum away from GOP demands that domestic programs be cut in exchange for avoiding a disastrous default.
At a press conference in the U.S. Capitol, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Mich., the chair of the progressive group, said its members were intent on “holding the line against a bad deal.” The Democrats accused House Republicans of not negotiating in good faith, instead hoping the nation defaults on its debt to plunge the economy into chaos, which they believed would benefit the GOP in 2024 elections.
“What Republicans are doing right now is playing stupid games, they are not negotiating,” said Omar, who is deputy chair of the Progressive Caucus. “The default that they are threatening is a horror show.”
The nation will reach its debt limit as early as June 1, at which point it will default on money it owes and likely result in a collapse in stock markets, a surge in unemployment and panic throughout the global economy. To agree to raise the debt ceiling, Republicans have demanded substantial cuts in domestic programs, new work requirements for certain Medicaid and food stamp recipients, and reversals of key elements of President Biden’s climate as well as an end to the president’s student loan relief and Internal Revenue Service overhaul plans.
They may roll back on those demands. But House GOP leaders have a red line.
While Republicans say their goal is to reduce the nation’s $31 trillion deficit, they have put revenue-raising efforts – such are rolling back Trump-era tax cuts on the wealthy and large corporations – off limits. They have also has shielded some of the most expensive programs, including the Pentagon budget and politically sensitive entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security from its plan to reduce spending.
“The hypocrisy is astonishing,” said Omar of GOP insistence on keeping the Trump-era tax cuts, which are due to expire in 2025. “We need to stop letting (House Speaker) Kevin McCarthy take us for fools.”
Members of the Progressive Caucus also called on swing district Republicans to sign their “discharge petition,” which would force a vote on a “clean” debt ceiling bill, one that has no conditions. To put that legislation on the floor without the OK of GOP leaders, Democrats would have to collect the signatures of at least 218 lawmakers, representing a majority in the U.S. House.
As of Wednesday afternoon, all 213 House Democrats had signed the petition. So, five signatures from the GOP side of the aisle are needed. Some of the progressive lawmakers at the press conference emphasized that point by raising an open palm showing five fingers. But the attempts to force votes through a discharge petition have rarely succeeded and is considered a longshot, even as the “X-date” of June 1 nears.
Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th District, the House Majority Whip, has kept all House Republicans in line and loyal to a hardline negotiating position, at least, so far.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are miffed the White House hasn’t done more to deliver a clear message on the debt ceiling talks — even as Republican negotiators and McCarthy have frequently spoken to reporters and held impromptu press conferences to make their case.
“We need to tell it like it is,” said Progressive Caucus Whip Greg Casar, D-Texas.
On Thursday afternoon, Biden said the negotiators were making “significant progress” on reaching a compromise. But one of McCarthy’s chief lieutenants in the talks, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., said “Nothing’s done, and we’re at a sensitive phase with sensitive issues that remain.”
“Those sensitive issues are the thorniest issues that we’ve been discussing,” McHenry said.
Even if a final deal between House Republicans and the White House is reached over the Memorial Day holiday, there are questions whether it can pass both houses of Congress before the nation defaults on June 1 and there’s extreme pressure on Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to find a way to push back the “X-date.”
The House and Senate are in recess for the holiday and it would take at least 24 hours to get all the lawmakers back to Washington, D.C. Congressional staff would need time to put the debt limit deal into legislative text and McCarthy has promised to allow at least 72 hours for members of his chamber to review the text of any agreement prior to passage.
Then, even if there’s unanimous consent in both chambers to scrap procedural hurdles, the legislation must be passed by the House and Senate and sent to Biden for his signature. On Thursday, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, the head of the Republican Steering Committee, threatened to use “every procedural tool” at his disposal to slow down Senate action on a debt ceiling bill if it lacks “substantial” reforms.
It only takes one senator to object to the consideration of the debt ceiling bill for the process in that chamber to grind to a halt for days.
Supreme Court rules against Hennepin County
The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of a 94-year old Geraldine Tyler, whose condo was sold at auction by Hennepin County after she moved into an apartment in a senior facility and failed to pay her property taxes on her condo for several years.
The Supreme Court ruling will force changes the forfeiture laws of Minnesota and nine other states that allow the sale of property for back taxes without compensating owners for the surplus “excess equity” that sale might generate. In most states, the surplus proceeds from such sales are returned to the owner.
“Hennepin County represented the interests of Minnesota and many other states with laws that transfer title of abandoned property to reduce the burden to the public,” Hennepin County Auditor Dan Rogan said in an emailed statement. “Based on today’s decision which found Minnesota’s law unconstitutional, Minnesota’s property tax forfeiture laws must be revised.”
Rogan also said that Minnesota counties “have faithfully administered the state’s property forfeiture laws for well over a century, but that now Hennepin County “will work closely with the Minnesota Legislature to create a process that is consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision.”
In 2015, Tyler’s delinquent property taxes totaled $2,311, and penalties, costs and interest added an additional $12,689, for a total property-tax debt of $15,000.
Hennepin County sent Tyler a notice of foreclosure and a notice that she could redeem her property but says it received no response. So, the county foreclosed on the property and sold it, for $40,000, keeping all the proceeds of that sale. Tyler sued to retrieve what she said was her right to the $25,000 the sale produced in excess of the taxes and penalties she owed.
Tyler lost her suit in the lower courts but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled – unanimously – that the county’s actions violated the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause, which bars the government from taking private property for public use without adequately compensating the property owner.
The opinion in Tyler v. Hennepin County, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court rejected Hennepin County’s argument that Tyler lacked a legal right, known as standing, to bring her takings claim at all. The county said Tyler was not actually harmed by the sale of her condo because she may have also had a mortgage for $49,000 on the property, as well as a $12,000 lien for unpaid homeowners’ association fee.
Roberts wrote that the county never produced evidence of the mortgage or the lien.
“Even if there were encumbrances on the home worth more than the surplus, Tyler still plausibly alleges a financial harm: The County has kept $25,000 that belongs to her,” Roberts wrote.
He also wrote that if Tyler had been given the surplus money from the sale, she could have used it to help extinguish any debts related to the condo.