Because of the ongoing debt limit crisis, the United States’ perfect credit rating is in jeopardy of being downgraded, according to Fitch, one of the nation’s top credit rating agencies, which says the warning “reflects increased political partisanship that is hindering reaching a resolution.” Fitch is clearly hoping the warning is enough to wake the Republican Congress up to the very real danger of default.
That’s all pretty esoteric. What’s very concrete is the fear people living on fixed incomes feel right now. The first victims of default are going to be the most vulnerable—the oldest Americans and disabled people. People who are 88 and older, and those receiving Supplemental Security Income are the first group paid every month. They’re the ones most likely to have nothing left over at the end of the month if their payments are delayed, even by days.
“It feels like I’m living on the edge of a cliff,” 63-year-old Melissa Fields told The Washington Post. She lives on $1,388 a month, plus Medicare and Medicaid. “I’m so scared. I’ve been disabled my whole life and have always depended on my Social Security, my Medicaid, my Medicare. To threaten to take that away is unfair, it’s cruel. The prospect [of] … being suddenly without money or health care is too much to bear.”
Fields needs dialysis every day and has to pay a portion of that cost. She is $12,000 in debt and struggles to make minimum payments on her credit cards. This is very literally life or death for her.
People like Fields are not at the top of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s mind. He’s sending the House home Thursday for a long Memorial Day weekend that will last until June 5. Members have been told they might need to return to the Capitol on 24-hour notice if an agreement between McCarthy and President Joe Biden is reached. The deadline for a deal remains unchanged: June 1 or very shortly thereafter.
With all that, Republicans are still maintaining the fiction that they’re protecting Social Security, Medicare, and veterans by not targeting benefits in the draconian deal they’re trying to force on Biden and the nation. That’s purely lip service, because what Republicans are trying to force is economic catastrophe.
In fact, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said so, out loud and in public, on Fox News. A default would be blamed on Biden, she insisted, not the Republicans who would have forced it. ”This is a president that is failing the American people. So I think that bodes very well for the Republican field.”
Another Republican rooting for that disaster is Freedom Caucus guy Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, whose primary job right now is reminding McCarthy that he’s on thin ice. “I am going to have to go have some blunt conversations with my colleagues and the leadership team,” he said in a radio interview Thursday. “I don’t like the direction they are headed.” The Freedom Caucus position is no negotiating, period, and forcing the Senate to pass the budget-slashing bill the House passed last month.
That puts McCarthy in a bind. Roughly 30 Freedom Caucus members insist they won’t vote for anything that’s not in the plan they forced through the House last month, which means McCarthy would have to look to Democrats for votes. Passing it with Democratic votes would enrage the Freedom Caucus, potentially leading to an effort to oust McCarthy from the speaker’s chair.
Meanwhile, all 213 Democrats have signed on to the discharge petition that would force a clean debt ceiling hike onto the floor. That’s unity. But to succeed, they must find five Republicans willing to join them; the maneuver requires a simple majority of House members. That means at least five Republicans have to be willing to put people like Melissa Fields ahead of people like Chip Roy. That should be an easy call—but they’re Republicans, after all.
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