WASHINGTON — Republicans held their ground in the dramatic, drawn-out stalemate over how to raise the federal government’s debt limit, and ultimately got their way more than Democrats did, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa told Civil Beat on Monday.
“This is clearly the Republicans wielding control,” Hanabusa said. “You’ve got to give them that. They were able to do something that no Democrat has ever done.”
Hanabusa was one of 269 members of the House who voted in support of a long-delayed deal to raise the debt ceiling on Monday night. It is expected to pass the Senate Tuesday. The Republicans were staunchly opposed to tax increases and this deal doesn’t include any.
Hanabusa’s “yes” vote came not because she liked the Budget Control Act of 2011, but because she felt it necessary to avoid a federal government default, she said.
“There’s just so much of (this bill) that people find hard to stomach, and yet at the same time we’re weighing default,” Hanabusa said. “You know, we’re not buying the Republican jargon that there’s no impact. We believe there’s a major impact if we don’t come out and raise the debt ceiling.”
Rep. Mazie Hirono, who also voted in favor of the act, said the important thing was that the debt ceiling was raised without immediately compromising Social Security or Medicare.
“I think what’s really important is, clearly they didn’t get everything they wanted and neither did we,” Hirono told Civil Beat. “Frankly what I’d like to do is go forward.”
Lawmakers were up against an Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt limit before the U.S. Treasury would not be able to pay its bills, officials said. The act that passed in the House would extend the debt limit by $900 billion until 2013, and would make cuts of more than $900 billion over the next 10 years. A special 12-member congressional committee will propose a package of $1.5 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years, which would have to be approved on an up-or-down vote by Congress. If lawmakers fail to pass such cuts, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts seen as unfavorable to both Republicans and Democrats would be set off.
Although Hanabusa ultimately voted to help pass the act, she said she worries about what such reliance on a special committee says about the abilities of Congress as a whole. She also raised concerns about the extent to which the deal is a way to circumvent open government procedures.
“There is this sense that if we were to let people have a say and go through the normal process — talk about transparency! — that something’s going to muck it all up,” Hanabusa said. “So that’s why there’s the creation of this commission. We’re really giving up a lot of procedural maneuvering. We have waived all rights to rules. We’ve waived points of orders. I don’t see them with any kind of open meeting requirement.”
Hirono was less critical of the bill, and stood firmly and optimistically behind her “yes” vote.
“This is part of the compromise,” Hirono said of the congressional committee in the interview with Civil Beat Monday night. “So what I hope is that this committee will go forward and, under regular order, hold hearings and do the kinds of things that a congressional committee would do.”
It’s unclear what the creation of a congressional committee will mean for Sen. Daniel Inouye‘s role on a bipartisan deficit reduction panel led by Vice President Joe Biden.
“That is unclear,” Inouye spokesman Peter Boylan told Civil Beat in an email. “The Biden group that Senator Inouye worked on created some of the elements in this package. We have to wait until the bill is voted on by both chambers and sent to the President before we will know for sure what is in it.”
Inouye, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, could be a candidate for appointment to the special congressional committee. The Senate majority leader and minority leader as well as the House speaker and minority leader will each get to appoint three committee members.
Inouye and Sen. Daniel Akaka could not be reached for comment Monday night. A spokesman for Akaka said the senator was waiting to hear more feedback from constituents ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
Hanabusa said that, ultimately, the act is a way to minimize congressional participation in order to make progress.
“It is troubling,” Hanabusa said. “But you know, if there’s anything that’s consistent in all of these bills, they all decided one thing, which is we can’t do this again. They’ve got to find another way to do it. That’s a statement about people serving and leadership all the way around.”