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D.C. Memo: Centrist Dean Phillips helps GOP in debt ceiling drama, attempt to cut food stamps won’t

Plus: Angie Craig draws a new challenger

Before the procedural vote, Rep. Dean Phillips was photographed standing proudly on the House floor with both a red card (for no) and a green card (for yes) in his jacket pocket.
Before the procedural vote, Rep. Dean Phillips was photographed standing proudly on the House floor with both a red card (for no) and a green card (for yes) in his jacket pocket.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Dean Phillips had somewhat of an outsized role in the drama this week to avoid a calamitous default by raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

Phillips, D-3rd District, was one of 52 mostly centrist Democrats released by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-Calif., to vote for a procedural motion that would allow the debt ceiling and budget package to come to the House floor for a vote.

Democratic votes for the motion were needed because the debt ceiling package, agreed to by the White House and House GOP leaders had been rejected by dozens of House Republican lawmakers – mostly from the party’s right flank – who did not want the bill to advance.

Before the procedural vote, Phillips was photographed standing proudly on the House floor with both a red card (for no) and a green card (for yes) in his jacket pocket. A Politico reporter who tweeted out that photo, taken by an anonymous lawmaker, said centrist Phillips “stands ready with both voting options.” The photographer may have wished to be anonymous because taking photos on the House floor is prohibited.

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Jeffries held back Democratic votes for a while. But eventually, the motion passed with the help Phillips and other Democrats afforded.

“I’m proud of my Problem Solvers,” Phillips said of the bipartisan caucus of centrist lawmakers of which he’s heavily involved. “That’s why we exist, to have an organized group that’s ready to activate on days like this quickly, and that’s exactly what we did. And I’m proud of that group. And I hope that’s recognized.”

The House then approved the debt ceiling package, 314-117, with a majority of Democratic votes, including those of all the members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, except Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd District, who said she would have voted for it but was laid up at her home in Prior Lake with a broken ankle.

The U.S. Senate acted with unusual speed and approved the package late Thursday.

Republican members of the delegation were split, with Reps. Tom Emmer, R-6th District and Pete Stauber, R-8th District, voting for the legislation and Reps. Brad Finstad, R-1st District and Michelle Fischbach, R-7th District, voting against it.

“Unfortunately, for me, the deal outlined in the Fiscal Responsibility Act doesn’t go far enough to address the key drivers of our national debt and falls short of the necessary reforms to fix a broken Washington,” Finstad said in a statement.

Phillips may have impacted the debt ceiling vote in another way. As a leading member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, he promoted the group’s debt-ceiling plan, which included the creation of a special panel to study ways to cut government spending.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., this week announced he is assembling “a commission” to look at potential cuts in government programs, including Medicare and Social Security. Phillips called it “great news.”

Phillips was the first Democrat to say he may come to McCarthy’s aid if his speakership is challenged by House Republicans who are sore about the debt ceiling agreement. Any Republican can force a vote on McCarthy’s leadership under a procedure known as a “motion to vacate the chair.”

We’ll cross these bridges when we come to them,” Phillips said. “There has been conversations (with other Democratic Problem Solvers.) Not organized, if you will … And I think it’s fair to say that the alternatives to Speaker McCarthy could be a whole lot more damaging both to the country and certainly to the Democratic caucus.”

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Both of Minnesota’s Democratic senators , Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, voted for the debt limit and budget bill.

“It’s not everything I would want in an agreement but that’s what a compromise is,” Klobuchar said.

Move to cut food stamps would actually expand program

A proposal to expand work requirements for single, childless food stamp recipients in the debt ceiling package was cited by both hard-right House Republicans and some of the most progressive House Democrats.

House Republicans were disappointed the effort to prod more people into the workforce and cut the food stamp program was not tough enough and Democrats decried the effort to cut the nation’s deficit on the backs of the poor. GOP anger grew after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said this week the work requirements in the debt ceiling package would actually cost the federal government more money, about $2.1 billion, and result in thousands of new recipients.

Why? Because work requirements were about to be reimposed on all abled bodied single people younger than 50 years of age with no dependents who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the official name for food stamps. During the pandemic, those SNAP beneficiaries did not have to meet the requirement they work, volunteer, or attend training classes at least 20 hours a week. But that three-year pause will end on July 1.

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In the debt ceiling package, the age limit for the work requirement for single adults without children was raised to those younger than 55, not 50. But homeless people and veterans, two large groups of single SNAP recipients, were exempted – no matter how old they are. So the CBO expects new enrollees among veterans and the unhoused, raising the size and cost of the program.

The fight over food stamps is not over, however. Republicans are expected to seek new limits to the program, which is paid for by the federal government and administered by the states, in this year’s farm bill.

Craig draws second GOP challenger

As one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the House, Rep. Angie Craig has drawn serious Republican challengers since she first ran for Congress in 2016 and this election cycle is no different.

Burnsville attorney Tayler Rahm announced this week that he would challenge Craig.

His announcement said the 2nd District is “seen as one of the nation’s most competitive congressional districts” with both the Democratic and Republican national parties including the seat on its list of top priorities. That has drawn millions of dollars in campaign cash into the hot race for the seat. Rahm is a Republican, although his campaign announcement failed to mention that.

The announcement said “It was Tayler’s patriotic love of the U.S. Constitution and his desire to protect those rights for all Americans that led to his decision to pursue a career as an attorney.” It also said Rahm earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, attended William Mitchell College of Law and received his J.D. degree from William Mitchell College of Law in 2015.

Rahm would be the second Republican to enter the race. In February, Michael Murphy, the former mayor of Lexington and a former GOP gubernatorial candidate, filed a statement of candidacy and set up a “Murphy for Congress” campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission.