Balint not sold on debt ceiling deal

The debt ceiling deal brokered by the White House and GOP leaders needs bipartisan backing to pass to avoid an unprecedented government default
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 5:18 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (WCAX) - The debt ceiling deal brokered by the White House and GOP leaders needs bipartisan backing to pass to avoid an unprecedented government default, but Vermont Congresswoman Becca Balint is among lawmakers who aren’t sold on it.

“I know Vermonters want me to think very carefully about my vote,” Balint said Tuesday. And right now she is thinking her vote could send a message. “I am leaning no.”

The compromise legislation called the Fiscal Responsibility Act would lift the debt ceiling for the next two years and keep non-defense spending at roughly the same levels. It would prevent cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and military and veterans programs. It would also impose stricter work requirements for people receiving food assistance such as SNAP, formally called food stamps.

Balint is concerned $880 billion in defense spending is untouchable but that hasn’t been guaranteed for domestic programs supporting working families. “So far we haven’t gotten agreement that money will be protected in the appropriations process,” she said. And she’s troubled that a natural gas pipeline project got shoehorned into the deal too. “This was never part of an agreement we had discussed.”

But time is running out and both chambers of Congress must pass the measure by June 5. That’s when the Treasury Department says the U.S. runs out of money.

Balint says in the end she wouldn’t let that happen if it comes down to her vote. “I would never cast the deciding vote that would lead to default. I know how catastrophic that would be,” Balint said. But we cannot just say from now on, a slim majority -- whether Democrat or Republican -- can hold hostage our ability to pay bills.”

White House officials, leaders in both parties, and even the president have been working the phones to rally enough yes votes to get it through.

“We discussed the negotiation and how we’re going to deliver the majority,” said Rep. Annie Kuster, D-New Hampshire, who chairs the New Democrat Coalition and could be key in moving the debt deal bill forward. The coalition of 98 middle-of-the-road Democrats is trying to bridge the gap between the far left and far right. “The votes for this bill will come from the middle out. I think we’ll have roughly an equal number on either side.”

North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-New York, calls the deal a win for the American people but says it only happened because of Republicans.

A key test is coming up Tuesday when the House Rules Committee considers the package and votes on sending it to the full House.