New Jersey Democratic members of Congress have blasted US House Republicans for playing a game of brinksmanship with the US debt ceiling, while millions of New Jersey residents stand to be impacted by an economic downturn expected to follow a default.
President Joe Biden had said that the US is not a “deadbeat” country and pays its bills while Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republicans seek to press for deep cuts in federal spending going forward as a condition for their approval.
The debt ceiling, however, impacts payments for goods and services already rendered. Additionally, Congressman Bill Pascrell warned that social security checks to senior citizens would come to a halt. According to the Social Security Administration, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 1,646,792 individuals in the state receiving Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance, to the tune of just over $2.5 billion a month. Supplemental Security Income, which is a federal cash assistance program, benefits the “low-income, aged, blind, or disabled persons” with 178,009 New Jersey recipients as of December of 2019.
Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (CD-11) slammed the Republican House leadership which would impact the most vulnerable in society. She also blasted GOP plans to hack down defense spending which could put the US at a disadvantage on the world stage and imperil local defense-related jobs. This week, she released a statement, saying, “…the Armed Services Committee should be meeting to go line by line through the National Defense Authorization Act. We should be coming together to chart oversight of the Defense Department, debate national security threats, and provide resources to strengthen Picatinny Arsenal. This vital work is delayed because, and only because, Speaker McCarthy wants to force through draconian cuts to vital programs like Head Start and Meals on Wheels but has no actual plan for the federal budget. Instead of approving pay increases for servicemembers, making investments in new and innovative technologies, or countering threats from adversaries like Russia and China, House Republicans are voting this week to roll back rules that protect our environment and have already resulted in $88 billion in private investment in electric vehicle manufacturing. Our country’s national security isn’t a political pawn and shouldn’t be held hostage to Speaker McCarthy’s lack of leadership.”
The debt crisis also comes at a time when SNAP benefits cuts have seen more and more pressure on community food pantries. New Jersey’s first lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, urged residents to contact their federal lawmakers to demand SNAP benefits do not fall through, as private charities alone are insufficient to the task.
“Approximately 785,000 struggling New Jersey residents — children, parents, seniors, people with disabilities, veterans and more — are already hurt by the COVID cuts,” Guadagno said. “SNAP households in Monmouth County — where more than half those struggling are children — lost $190 per month in benefits. This deficit of approximately 1.5 million meals each month cannot be on the back of food pantries like Mercy Center. We are funded solely on donations, and we cannot be substitutes for the enormous loss in food assistance that will accompany greater SNAP restrictions.”
Fellow North Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, warned in an op-ed that “Social Security checks will cease and Medicare reimbursements will freeze, leaving tens of millions of Americans unable to eat or pay for essential care. Our military servicemembers and federal law enforcement would see their pay cut off.”
Pascrell said that Republicans were holding a “doomsday device” which he warned would potentially precipitate a “financial meltdown far worse than 2008,” referring to the Great Recession that wiped out millions of jobs and contributed to the economic stymying of Millennials just as they were entering the workforce in great numbers.
The clock is ticking fast. Pascrell said that in order to prevent a default—something the United States has never experienced in its history—a deal must be struck by June 1. “Nothing about this is ordinary,” Pascrell said. “Congress has responsibly addressed the debt ceiling 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents. It’s fiscal lunacy to use America’s creditworthiness as a bargaining chip. But here we are, barreling toward self-inflicted disaster. For those who confuse defaulting with a government shutdown, it’s understandable. It’s harder than ever to separate partisan noise from genuine crisis. But while a shutdown can be painful, defaulting on our debts would be cataclysmic.”
While previous debt ceiling showdowns have happened before, in the end, both parties understood that the economic stability and credibility of the nation was far more important than momentary partisan agendas. On the broader stage, the issue of reining in government spending is being effectively obfuscated with the debt ceiling itself. Will history repeat itself and see the politicians put the American people before their particular interests?
Pascrell is not so optimistic. “The truth is cooler heads might not prevail this time. As Americans saw in January, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy did everything short of selling the chamber desks to win the votes of enough fanatics to seize power; if given the choice between saving his job or saving the U.S. economy, I have little faith in the Speaker… These consequences are clear and undeniable. But Republicans have waged a relentless campaign to distract the public from the horrifying reality of their reckless gambit. Don’t be fooled. Republicans want you to believe threatening economic catastrophe is about fiscal responsibility. But blocking America from paying its bills is a catastrophic betrayal of our duty to govern. If Republicans were truly committed to deficit reduction, they’d come to the table without their thumbs poised menacingly over the detonator that would demolish our financial system.”
New Jersey is not a completely Democratic stronghold. Far from it. The New Jersey GOP actually increased its presence in the state delegation to DC when Tom Kean, Jr., son of former Governor Tom Kean, defeated Congressman Tom Malinowski in the previous election. Malinowski is expected to make a run to regain his seat in the next election, but until then, Kean has an opportunity to dig his fingers into this pressing matter and, cynically or otherwise, exploit that for political capital afterward. As New Jersey’s newest Republican member of congress, Tom Kean, Jr. has the ability to exert a direct impact on the direction of the crisis and work towards a resolution. Media-shy and largely silent during his campaign, in the House he remains, characteristically, tight-lipped. Whether from simple party fidelity or a genuine lack of desire to lead, Kean Jr. is missing an opportunity not only for the benefit of his constituents, but for his own future prospects going forward while Democrats at home convene to plan his ouster.
Following a Moody’s report that proposed Republican legislation to chop down spending would damage the economy, an attempt by Roll Call to reach Kean for comment went unanswered. “Under the legislation, GDP growth is so weak that employment declines in the first three quarters of 2024, and the unemployment rate rises by more than a percentage point to 4.6% by the fourth quarter of 2024,” Moody’s reported. “Compared with the Clean Debt Limit scenario, by year-end 2024, employment is 780,000 jobs lower, and the unemployment rate is 0.36 percentage point higher.”
“Economists are warning extreme MAGA Republicans that their plan would tank the U.S. economy, increase the likelihood of a recession, and kill hundreds of thousands of jobs,” DCCC Spokesman Tommy Garcia said “…yet House Republicans seem unfazed. The political brinkmanship on display will only force our economy to default on its debts, resulting in a catastrophic scenario that will hurt working families across our nation. Tom Kean Jr. must make clear his position on the GOP-backed plan.”
Former Congressman Malinowski responded to a Tweet by Speaker McCarthy on Monday, where the Speaker said, “President Biden and I just had a productive meeting in our negotiation to responsibly raise the debt limit. It should have happened months ago, but there is a path for him to avoid defaulting on the debt.” Malinowski replied, “Only Congress has the power to raise the debt ceiling and avoid defaulting on the debt. And the clock is ticking. Meanwhile, McCarthy sounds like a mugger trying to blame his victim for forcing him to pull the trigger.”
Congressman Donald Payne explained for why he voted against the Republican-sponsored “Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023” (HR 2811). “It would create more air and water pollution, deny food assistance to the Americans who need it the most, deny college students and schoolchildren a quality education, and limit access to childcare for thousands of working parents. In addition, it would cost the country billions of dollars in taxes from corporations and the richest 1-percent of Americans who avoid paying their fair share.”
Payne said that the plan was “terrible” as far as addressing the deficit and called out what he saw as hypocrisy across the aisle. “Once again, Republicans reveal their anti-American agenda with a budget plan that pads the pockets of their corporate and wealthy friends at the expense of the American taxpayer. Republicans said nothing about budget cuts when Donald Trump added almost $8 trillion to the national debt. That is $23,000 of debt for every single American. Now, they want to talk about deficit reduction and lowering the national debt. They are in no position to talk about either one. Thankfully, Democrats are putting People over Politics. President Biden’s budget saves $3 trillion over the next 10 years. The Republican bill would make politicians choose to either punish middle-class Americans or possibly trigger another Great Depression.”
New Jersey’s senior federal lawmaker, Senator Robert Menendez, also put a torch to the Republicans’ plans in the House, where revenue bills are generated. In a statement, Senator Menendez echoed previous lawmakers’ concerns about the impact to those receiving federal assistance and vital services funded from DC. “The extreme House Republican’s Default on America bill is wildly unpopular and has no path forward in the Senate. This radical legislation would slash health care, cause significant job losses, increase crime, lead to higher prices, and cause unnecessary harm to working families, veterans, and seniors all while hurting our national security and shipping jobs to China.”
At present, the US Senate sees the smallest-possible Democratic majority, with 48 Democratic senators and 3 independents (Bernie Sanders, Kysten Sinema, and Angus King) caucusing with Democrats. It is a virtual certainty that this bloc will not break. To that end, Senator Menendez took aim at the House Speaker, warning the GOP plan would be dead-on-arrival in the upper house. “It is clear that Speaker McCarthy’s MAGA majority is more focused on preserving his weak speakership by passing messaging bills that lead nowhere than delivering for the American people. Simply put, this plan would set our country back and is a non-starter. Senate Democrats stand united in rejecting this bill and it is my hope that sensible heads will prevail so we can prevent the first-ever debt default in our nation’s history that would be catastrophic for working families and our standing in the world.”
While politicians play games in the great marble halls of the Capitol, where all the smashed glass and haze teargas has long been swept away, New Jerseyans wait with greater and greater trepidation as to their future economic security. After enduring two years of COVID-related shutdowns and imploded dreams, inflation, and incomprehensible rhetoric from on-high, a rebounding-but-fragile economy is standing at the edge of a precipice. In 2020, the median income of a member of congress was $1 million. It will not be difficult for those who are well-off and affecting policy to ride out the consequences of their partisan principles. The vast majority of Americans outside the venerable pillars of the world’s sole-remaining superpower remain victims-in-waiting, worried and fatigued as the prospect of yet-another unprecedented national catastrophe hangs in the balance.