Debt deal includes cruel attack on the nation’s poorest
Tim Aubry / Greenpeace

WASHINGTON – The deal that President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy hammered out to raise the debt ceiling avoids default for two years but inflicts pain and suffering on millions of the most vulnerable Americans.

The economy can bear the cuts, according to the front-page article in today’s New York Times as if what the poor who survive on food stamps who will now be forced to work for sub-minimum wages can bear is not even worth mentioning.

People up to the age of 55 who cannot survive without food stamps, for example, will be forced to toil at jobs that pay sub-minimal wages. The debt limit increase and budget cut deal is scheduled to be up for a vote in the House on May 31 when MAGA Republicans are expected to demand far more draconian cuts and many Democrats are expected to oppose the ones now included in the deal.

Republicans held the nation hostage to get to the deal by forcing President Biden who said the debt ceiling was non-negotiable to actually negotiate in the end, in order to avoid default.

Progressives wanted the president to short circuit the GOP hostage operation by using his power to ignore them under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which says essentially that absolutely no impediments can be erected to avoid paying the national debt.

Biden said he agreed that he had that power but was concerned that if he used it court fights would cause delays that would force a default anyway.

The bottom line is that the deal basically freezes federal domestic spending for two years, beyond the next presidential election, while giving the military an increase.

And the poorest of the poor get socked. People who get food stamps and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families—what the Republicans derisively call “welfare” – would be loaded with even more work requirements. Rental aid gets slashed. And poor college grads would have to start repaying their loans again.

Meanwhile, the rich and corporations escape more taxes, and even the 2017 Trump-Republican $1.7 trillion tax cut remains untouched.

In return, the federal debt ceiling is raised far enough to cover past and planned spending beyond the end of calendar 2024. Right now, says Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the drop-dead deadline for when the government runs out of money to pay its bills, unless lawmakers raise the ceiling, is June 5.

All this maddens progressives. “Republicans said they wanted a deal that cut the deficit. But the reported debt ceiling agreement takes money AWAY from the IRS that would be used to go after wealthy tax cheats. Instead of making the rich pay their fair share, the GOP is going after working American families,” says Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the Congressional Progressive Caucus chair.

“[Republicans] are accusing Democrats of spending too much,” adds Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “For anyone that wants to entertain that thought, think about the last time a person said that the government does too much for them, that their Social Security check was too high, and that teachers are paid too much.

“What this debt ceiling debate is really about is that Republicans have run up a bill that they now do not want to pay.”

“The MAGA-imposed ‘deal’ between McCarthy and Biden to extend the age limit from 49 to 54 for SNAP and TANF recipients to receive food stamps is an outrage,” Joe Sims, the co-chair of the Communist Party USA declared this morning. “The GOP is chipping away at the social safety net and let’s be real.

“They are paying poor people the equivalent of $6 a day for a compulsory 20-hour work week when the already-low federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. And the president is dead wrong in calling criticism of work requirements ‘ridiculous.’

“Beyond that, a social system that seeks to address a Trump-invented budget crisis on the backs of those least able to afford it has demonstrated once again, its bankruptcy. The key to moving forward is defeating all the MAGA extremists in next year’s election.”

Greenpeace posted a photo/graphic of the lit-up Capitol Dome at night with the words “Stop the dirty deal,” superimposed.

Backroom deals opposed

“Backroom deals to gut our bedrock environmental protections at the expense of frontline communities have been defeated three times before by those who value people over profits,” Legislative Director Alice Madden said. “Now, while holding the country hostage in debt ceiling negotiations, the House GOP crafted a deal that helps polluters and hurts already struggling families. And breaking his own promises, President Biden capitulated to these extremist demands and is embracing a fossil fuel industry wish list.

“None of these measures belong in a bill to raise the debt ceiling.”

That wish list includes speeding up permits and overriding environmental objections, for fossil fuel plants and pipelines, a favorite cause of a key Senate swing voter, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin.

Progressives aren’t the only ones upset by the deal between Democratic President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., both of whom are working the phones to get the Republican-run House to approve the measure when it hits the floor on May 31.

The corporate-backed MAGA Republicans aren’t happy, either. They want more pain to be inflicted upon the American people.

They demanded deep cuts—at least 22%—in domestic spending for the year starting Oct. 1. They also demanded a sharp increase for the military and proposed letting kids starve by cutting food stamps, imposing even more work requirements on the poorest of the poor, and eliminating student aid forgiveness.

Some of their brainstorms went beyond that, such as zeroing out the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The corporate class and its Republican puppets last tried that tactic in 1995 and failed.

Only if they won would the 30-40 members of the so-called House Freedom Caucus back the debt ceiling bill. Since the Republicans control the House by only a handful of seats, their votes would be enough to sink the measure—and a comment by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., that they’re holding not just the U.S. but the entire world economy hostage in order to get their way.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.