The U.S. House voted to lift the nation's debt ceiling Wednesday night, averting a potential economic catastrophe and handing a defeat to former President Donald Trump as well as congressional hardline Republicans and Democratic progressives alike.
In voting to approve the package of alternating spending cuts and extra expenditures, the bipartisan House majority rebuffed a bid by Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Mills of Port Orange to extend the debt limit for just one week to allow the Biden administration and Capitol Hill leadership to seek "a new deal."
The agreement struck by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy over the Memorial Day weekend extended Washington's borrowing limit by $4 trillion into 2025. It also had caps on spending and work requirements for those accessing federal programs like the food Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP.
That part was one reason the legislation elicited sharp criticism, and 46 defections, largely from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
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U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, conceded she had "questions and concerns" about the legislation. But she said she voted for it to protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits, health care to military members exposed to toxic chemicals of war and climate-change mitigation investments, as well as initiatives the Biden White House and Capitol Hill Democrats approved in 2021 and 2022.
"Republicans wanted severe cuts in almost every single program that are lifelines to Americans," Frankel said. "This was a very intense negotiation. People would find it almost unimaginable what Republicans wanted to cut. The demands were very severe. Very severe."
Trump called for default while his Florida congressional allies demanded deep spending cuts
In a CNN town hall on May 10, Trump said the country's $33 trillion debt is a "number nobody thought possible" and called for a debt default if the Biden White House did not agree to "massive" budget cuts.
"I say to the Republicans out there, congressmen and senators, if they don't give you massive cuts, you're going to have to do a default," he said, although as president he said raising the debt ceiling should not be used as a bargaining chip.
But Biden and Capitol Hill Democrats turned Trump's call to default into a bluff by not capitulating to profound budget-slashing as prescribed in a spending bill approved in April by House Republicans. On Wednesday night, with the default deadline looming days ahead, an ample majority of Republicans in the House — 149 out of 222 — supported the reworked measure with far fewer spending cuts.
Two of the 10 Florida Republicans who backed the legislation were U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami and Jacksonville's John Rutherford.
Diaz-Balart said in a statement that McCarthy and House Republicans "reached a debt ceiling compromise that cuts back unnecessary, out-of-control government spending, while protecting our nation's seniors, veterans and most vulnerable."
Rutherford said in a television interview that he supported the debt compromise because it reduced year-over-year spending as well as non-defense discretionary dollars.
Still, 10 other Florida House Republicans, including a number of those who have endorsed Trump, spoke out against the deal.
U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, a St. Augustine Beach Republican, said he would vote against the pact because it "doesn't go far enough" in cutting spending. At the other end of the peninsula, Naples GOP U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds demanded rolling back U.S. federal spending back to pre-pandemic, 2019 levels.
Just to his north on Interstate 75, U.S. Rep Vern Buchanan on Tuesday evening said he, too, would oppose the debt deal. Other opponents included freshman U.S. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, a St. Petersburg Republican, as well as Pensacola U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who boasted on Twitter that he was among the "only Republicans in Congress who have never voted to raise" the country's debt limit.
On Wednesday night, they were joined by other no-votes from U.S. Reps. Greg Steube of Sarasota, Bill Posey of Melbourne and Brian Mast of Stuart.
Gaetz also stated if McCarthy were to move the legislation without the support of a "majority of the majority" — meaning 112 Republicans — it would amount to a "black letter violation" of the concessions the speaker granted in January and "would likely trigger an immediate motion" to remove him from the House's top post. However, McCarthy got more than a sufficient number of Republican votes to surpass that threshold.
Florida Democrats largely voted in favor and said their priority was to avert a disastrous default
The lone no vote among Florida Democrats was U.S. Rep. Federica Wilson of Miami. The other seven in the state's delegation, including progressive U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost of Orlando plus U.S. Reps. Darren Soto of Orlando and Kathy Castor of Tampa, voted to approve.
First-term U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the measure struck a necessary balance to avoid a default with "a responsible spending plan."
“What I have said for the past four months is that we must choose negotiations over default," Moskowitz said in a statement. "Just as the American family has had to scale back their spending, the U.S. government must scale back their spending."
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, added that the debt agreement protected "veterans’ medical care from Republican attacks and back-door budget cuts" and will add to the "more than $1.7 trillion deficit reductions" under the Biden administration while still "creating 12 million jobs" since 2021.
"Defaulting on our debt would be a dereliction of our duties as elected officials and destroy America’s economic recovery," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. "I am appalled that Republicans attempted to hold the economy hostage despite raising the debt ceiling cleanly three times under President Trump."
Frankel said the negotiations over the debt were "intense" and she resented that GOP members were recklessly willing to risk economic "devastation."
She insisted a default could have cost millions of jobs, seniors' Social Security payments, stock markets losses, a recession and the "horrors of not paying our bills and losing our standing in the world" and financial upheaval across the global economy.
Frankel said if Democrats were in charge, they would have backed a no-strings-attached debt ceiling increase.
"We would do what we've done in every single Congress under every single president, which is raise the debt ceiling, pay our bills," she said.
"People need to know there are extremists in the Republican Party in this Congress that basically have been holding the American people hostage. These are people who don't believe in government and don't care if we have an economic catastrophe. They just don't care. They're not even going to go along with their own party's negotiated proposal. That's what we're dealing with."
As for those in her party who were unhappy with the legislation's provisions, Frankel said she understood and "recognized the seriousness" of some of its features.
"I think the president negotiated the best deal possible under the circumstances for the American people," she said. "The president fought hard against the extreme MAGA Republicans that were going to give us a choice. Which was a devastating default on our debt that would have triggered a job-killing recession or very cruel lifeline cuts to just average American people. I believe the president has done a very good job in trying to protect us all."
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Debt ceiling setback for some Florida Republicans, Trump, progressives