Vermont Delegation Split On Debt-Ceiling

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(Host) It’s not often that members of Vermont’s congressional delegation are divided over key legislation.

But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the debt ceiling debate in Washington has split them.

(Kinzel) The legislation calls for $2.5 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years. It creates a special commission to recommend a comprehensive deficit reduction plan by Thanksgiving. And it extends the debt ceiling until after the 2012 election.

The package does not include any new revenue but the special commission is expected to consider that option.

Senator Patrick Leahy says he supports the bill because the alternative is unthinkable.

(Leahy) "I’m not happy with this at all and I’ve made that very clear to the leadership and to the White House. But I also realize what the alternative was and I was pragmatic enough to do that. The easy thing would be to say, ‘Look, I’ll vote against this because it’s not good enough for me.’ Well, the fact is it’s this or default. It’s not the choice one would like but it’s the choice we have." 

(Kinzel) And Leahy says Republican leaders in Congress improperly used the threat of default as their way to achieve spending cuts:

(Leahy) "I think there was extortion on the other side. But I’m not about to allow the United States to go over a cliff."

(Kinzel) Senator Bernie Sanders has a very different point of view. Speaking on the Senate floor, he said he strongly opposed the package because it unfairly hurts working class people.

(Sanders) "So let us not kid ourselves. In the midst of a terrible recession when so many people are hurting, so many people are struggling just to keep their heads above water economically, this deficit reduction package is going to slap them at the side of the head and make life much more difficult for them."

(Kinzel) And Sanders said he’s very disappointed that the package doesn’t include higher taxes on the wealthy and big corporations:

(Sanders) "It is time for the big money interests to start remembering they’re also Americans and they should contribute to deficit reduction."

(Kinzel) Congressman Peter Welch says this vote is one of the most difficult decisions he’s faced in Washington.

(Welch) "It’s a pick-your-poison situation. You know we really should not make a linkage between our obligations to pay our bills and working toward long-term fiscal stability. That gun at the head of the American economy, where if you don’t get your way you’d literally let the economy go over the cliff. It just shouldn’t be used by Republicans or Democrats but we’re in a situation where we all know we have to avoid default."

(Kinzel) Senator Leahy says the initial budget cuts won’t affect spending on Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. But Senator Sanders says he’s concerned that the special commission will recommend reductions in these programs as part of its overall plan. 

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

(Host) Congressman Peter Welch voted against the bill, which passed the House last night, saying it’s not a balanced plan with shared sacrifice.

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