by David Silverberg
Southwest Florida (SWFL) veterans and seniors will have their benefits preserved thanks to passage of the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 (House Resolution (HR) 3746) by the US House of Representatives tonight. (The full 99-page text can be read here.)
The 9:21 pm vote on what is commonly known as the debt ceiling bill was 314 to 117. It was the product of protracted negotiations between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.)
Some 149 Republicans voted for the bill, while 71 opposed it. Among Democrats 165 voted for it and 46 opposed it. Four members did not vote.
Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against the bill. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.) voted for it.
Numerous experts, analysts and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that if the bill does not also pass the Senate by June 5, the United States could default on its debts, bringing an economic crash and collapsing the global financial system. SWFL, like the rest of the country, would suffer severe consequences, especially to its veterans and seniors.
“If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, it would cause severe hardship to American families, harm our global leadership position, and raise questions about our ability to defend our national security interests,” Yellen warned congressional leaders in a May 1 letter.
Had it not passed, SWFL veterans were particularly at risk of losing their promised benefits. SWFL has a considerable veteran population. According to 2021 US Census figures, the latest available, there were 53,265 veterans living in Lee County, 22,747 in Collier County, and 20,413 in Charlotte County.
The bill maintains full funding for veterans’ health care. It increases support for the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act’s toxic exposure fund by nearly $15 billion for fiscal year 2024. The PACT Act is a law passed in the last Democratic-dominated Congress to benefit veterans exposed to harmful chemicals during their service.
An important impact of the bill was not spelled out but is vital to SWFL: if approved, Social Security recipients will receive their checks without interruption or delay. Some 12,547 Lee County residents, 3,984 Collier County residents, and 2,945 Charlotte County residents were Social Security recipients as of December 2021, according to the Social Security Administration. Nationally, 65 million Americans receive Social Security benefits.
The bill changes eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known by its earlier name of food stamps. The bill changes the eligibility of people to receive SNAP assistance to the age of 54 where before it was 50. States will also be required to ensure that a higher percentage of welfare beneficiaries are working at least 20 hours per week under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
As of 2022, according the Federal Reserve of St. Louis, there were 105,288 SNAP recipients in Lee County, 25,748 in Collier County and 17,257 in Charlotte County.
Other effects are much more spread out across the nation. They include:
Suspending annual passage of the debt ceiling for two years until after the 2024 election;
Keeping funding for most domestic programs flat for the remainder of Biden’s term in office;
Rescinding or “clawing back” $20 billion for modernization and expansion of the Internal Revenue Service;
Giving slight funding increases to the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments;
Ending student loan forgiveness 60 days after June 30 (i.e., Aug. 29);
Approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia, which was added at the last minute as a concession to Sen. Joe Mancin (D-WVa.).
SWFL Republican reaction
Rep. Byron Donalds, along with other members of the Freedom Caucus, denounces the debt ceiling bill at a press conference on Tuesday, May 30. To his left is Rep. Lauren Boebert, to his right Rep. Andy Biggs. (Image: CSPAN)
Before the vote, on Monday, May 29, Donalds tweeted: “After I heard about the debt ceiling deal, I was a NO. After reading the debt ceiling deal, I am absolutely NO!!”
Donalds joined other Freedom Caucus members yesterday, May 30 in a press conference to denounce the bill, where he told his audience, “Washington is doing it again. While you were celebrating Memorial Day, [The Swamp] was cutting another crap deal, more debt with no real changes whatsoever.” Donalds argued that deal reached by Biden and McCarthy made insufficient cuts and did not return US spending to pre-pandemic levels.
He also denounced Biden administration environmental funding that was unaffected by the deal.
“The people of SWFL sent me here to get this place back on track,” Donalds tweeted prior to the vote last night. “This deal doesn’t do enough. We must get serious because interest on the debt will soon outpace all other spending.”
“I’m a no,” declared Steube in a formal statement prior to the vote. “While I was originally optimistic about some of the conservative wins found in the negotiated debt ceiling package, I have read the bill, heard from hundreds of my constituents, and ultimately cannot in good conscience vote for this legislation.”
As of this writing Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s (R-26-Fla.) only comment was tweeted on May 22, before the deal was announced.
“Reminder: Biden ignored the debt ceiling issue for 97 days, and this last-minute crunch time could have been avoided,” he tweeted. House Republicans “are the only ones that passed legislation to responsibly raise the debt ceiling and address our country’s debt crisis. We have done our part.”
Francis Rooney, the former 19th District Republican representative weighed in as well: “Default would not be in the best interest of our country and the Fiscal Responsibility Act would avoid that while getting some spending reductions,” he tweeted yesterday. “The bloated spending bills I voted against in Congress and the obscene spending the last 2 years are the real problem.”
At the state level, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a candidate for the 2024 presidential nomination, denounced the deal. “Prior to this deal … our country was careening towards bankruptcy. And after this deal, our country will still be careening towards bankruptcy,” DeSantis said on “Fox & Friends.”
The bill now goes to the Democratic-majority Senate where it is expected to be swiftly approved and sent on to President Biden for signature, although there could be amendments that change its provisions. However, numerous senators have pledged not to delay its consideration. The United States is facing default if the bill is not finalized.
Special to Big Mouth Media from The Paradise Progressive. Originally published on May 31, 2023.