By an overwhelming 314 to 117 vote, the House of Representatives just passed the “debt ceiling” deal negotiated by President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy. One hundred and sixty-five out of 211 Democrats voted ‘yes,’ as did 149 out of 220 Republicans. It is expected to pass the Senate by an even wider margin. This piece of legislation contains provisions that would deepen hunger and weaken a wide range of public services, all while keeping the money flowing into the pockets of fossil fuel executives and weapons manufacturers.
Biden is presenting this deal as a necessary compromise to allow the government to keep borrowing money and avoid a default. But nothing about this was necessary. Instead of sitting down to politely negotiate with the Republicans, he could have fought them — calling the rightwing’s bluff and daring them to bring about an economic crisis just to force through widely unpopular austerity measures. He also could have simply ignored the debt ceiling by citing the provision of the 14th amendment that requires him to pay the government’s debt with no exceptions, or explored a legal provision that could authorize him to mint new currency in platinum coins.
Biden is pushing through these measures because he wants to. His bluster about refusing to negotiate quickly melted away as the deadline approached. The Democrats and Republicans are not two opposite ends of the political spectrum, they are partners in the war on workers and the environment. Here’s how they’re teaming up:
1. Kick people off of food stamps
One area of consensus the politicians hammered out was making sure more poor people go hungry. The debt ceiling deal imposes new bureaucratic requirements on many recipients of the SNAP program that will lead to large numbers of people losing their benefits.
This is being sold to the public as “work requirements,” but really it just means more paperwork. The deal expands the age range in which recipients are required to submit evidence that they worked for 20 hours a week or spent an equivalent amount of time trying to get work. Inevitably, a significant number of people will simply be unaware of changes to the technicalities and details of the program and lose their benefits as a result. This will deepen the exploding hunger crisis in the country, something that the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse survey found affects 25.4 million people — 11.3% of the population.
2. Produce more planet-killing fossil fuels
The deal takes the extraordinary step of giving the green light to the construction of a specific gas pipeline — the Mountain Valley Pipeline. It also will clear the way for many more infrastructure projects to sustain fossil fuel production in the future by making it easier to get regulatory approval.
For years, activists have been fighting the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. But instead of listening to them, Biden and his Republican friends decided to give a gift to the gas industry executives.
3. Cut everything – except the Pentagon
The bill to raise the debt ceiling essentially freezes the budget of every government agency that doesn’t involve killing people until 2025. Because of inflation, this will effectively mean a budget cut for offices involved in making sure food is safe, air is clean, labor laws are enforced, etc. A dollar in two years will buy less than a dollar does today.
The Pentagon, however, gets a free pass. The budget of the Department of “Defense” is exempt from the spending freeze, proving yet again that war for empire is a point of bipartisan unity.
4. Help rich people evade taxes
The deal involves a $10 billion cut to funding for the IRS next year, and an additional $10 billion cut the year after. This will diminish plans to increase the agency’s workforce and make it more effective. This makes some of the ultra-rich nervous, since they rely on complex arrangements and legal gray areas to avoid paying taxes, making the calculation that their personal legal and accounting resources are superior to the IRS.
The Republican hype about the supposed 87,000 new IRS agents that Biden wanted to hire was inflated to begin with. They would be hired over the course of 10 years, mainly as replacements for retiring workers and employees in roles other than auditors, and work within the confines of a tax system rigged in favor of the rich. But nevertheless, Biden and his Republican partners wanted to make completely sure that the millionaires and billionaires who cheat on their taxes had nothing to worry about.