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Sanders, 4 Senate Democrats Vote Against Debt Limit Bill With Cuts to SNAP

“The best thing to be said about the current deal on the debt ceiling is that it could have been much worse.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (left) and Sen. Jeff Merkley leave after a news conference on debt limit at the U.S. Capitol on May 18, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Five members of the Senate Democratic caucus voted against the debt ceiling package negotiated between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) and the White House on Thursday, condemning cruel provisions in the bill aimed at harming the nation’s most economically vulnerable populations.

The bill passed Thursday evening 63 to 36, with Senators John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania), Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) joining 31 Republicans in voting against the bill. President Joe Biden said after the passage of the bill to suspend the debt ceiling until 2025 that he will sign it “as soon as possible” in order to avoid a government default.

However, though the bill will avert a government-wide economic catastrophe, it deals pain to government programs and services, with widespread cuts to non-military spending and , expanding work requirements for food assistance, and hands out favors to the fossil fuel industry by greenlighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline and weakening permitting under the National Environmental Policy Act.

It also mandates the end of the student debt payment pause, which has been in effect since April 2020, with payments restarting on September 1.

Biden made these concessions, dubbed “poison pills” by activist groups, to McCarthy after months of Republicans holding the economy hostage in order to force through massive program cuts, despite the fact that Biden had pledged that he wouldn’t negotiate over the bill and insisted on a “clean” debt ceiling increase with no riders.

Progressives have sharply criticized the bill, saying that it throws vulnerable populations under the bus in order to appease Republicans and their billionaire backers.

In a statement released Wednesday, Sanders said that he could not “in good conscience” vote for the bill that, at every turn, gives favors to Big Oil, the Pentagon and the wealthy while jeopardizing the lives of poor and working class Americans.

“The best thing to be said about the current deal on the debt ceiling is that it could have been much worse,” Sanders said, adding that the bill is “totally unnecessary” due to progressives’ argument that Biden can simply invoke his powers under the 14th Amendment to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling.

“Deficit reduction cannot just be about cutting programs that working families, the children, the sick, the elderly, and the poor depend upon,” Sanders continued. “It must be about demanding that the billionaire class and profitable corporations pay their fair share of taxes, reining in out-of-control military spending, reducing the price of prescription drugs, and ending billions of dollars in corporate welfare that goes to the fossil fuel industry and other corporate interests.”

The senators condemned the Republican strategy of using the health of the U.S. economy and the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of Americans as a political bargaining chip.

Fetterman said on Twitter that “this was a tough vote and an ugly situation manufactured by extortionists.”

Markey called Republicans “despicable” in a statement after the vote and said that the bill prioritizes “pipelines over lifelines” and gives fossil fuel companies a “Get Out of Jail Free card.” He called for the abolition of the debt ceiling.

A wide swath of progressive and climate groups also slammed the bill. “President Biden was not up to the task of confronting Republicans who want to take our environment hostage,” Jean Su, energy justice director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement on Thursday. “This dirty deal sullies Biden’s climate legacy by gutting our bedrock environmental law and approving the disastrous Mountain Valley Pipeline. The White House has bartered away environmental justice in the name of bipartisanship that sacrifices people and the planet.”

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