U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, speaks with reporters about debt limit and government spending negations inside the Capitol on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 (Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom).
Yes, it looks like President Joe Biden and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., reached a deal to avert a potentially catastrophic default on the nation’s debt over the Memorial Day weekend.
And, yes, both Biden and McCarthy appear confident that the votes are there to pass it — even if the final product contains language guaranteed to annoy progressives and hard-line budget hawks in equal measure.
So you’d think, after weeks of partisan bickering that resulted in some epic side-eye around the world, that means the warring factions are willing to let bygones be bygones, right?
Not a chance.
On the eve of the Memorial Day weekend, and with the road to the majority running through Pennsylvania, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee renewed its criticism of two Keystone State Republicans who voted in April for a GOP-authored spending cuts bill, tied to the debt ceiling talks, that they say would have gutted benefits for veterans.
The Targets: U.S. Reps. Scott Perry, R-10th District, and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, whose districts respectively include more than 44,000 and 35,000 veterans. Both lawmakers were included on a list of 31 must-win seats as Democrats look to retake their majority in 2024.
An analysis obtained by the Capital-Star laid out the potential consequences of the bill if it were eventually signed into law.
That included millions of fewer medical appointments for veterans; a rise in backlogged disability claims; the loss of job-assistance for housing insecure veterans, and a delay to the opening of new national cemeteries, the analysis indicated.
Republicans have vigorously pushed back against Democratic criticisms of their ‘Limit, Save, Grow’ Act, saying they would never attack veterans’ benefits as they looked to rein in federal spending.
“I’m dead serious that we’re not cutting veterans, and I mean it,” House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairperson Mike Bost, R-Ill., said, according to KFF Health News.
“The White House and Democrats know that we can get our fiscal house in order while ensuring our service members and veterans are taken care of, and yet, with no regard for the impact of their words, they continue to speak lies about how House Republicans are cutting veterans’ benefits,” Bost said on the House floor, KFF Health News reported.
A fact-check, however, pointed to a different conclusion, with PolitiFact ruling the GOP’s claim ‘mostly false.’
As KFF Health News points out, the debate over protecting veterans benefits — which would necessitate other broad cuts — emerged as a political flashpoint during the run-up to the deal now apparently headed to Congress for a vote.
But, like a World Series trophy in Oakland, it’s entirely unlikely that such cuts ever would have come to pass. The bill never would have garnered the votes to pass the U.S. Senate, let alone netting a presidential signature. Cuts to veterans programs remain political kryptonite on Capitol Hill.
Perry, who spent more than 35 years in the Pa. Army National Guard, said as much in a May 4 Twitter post, calling the Democratic argument “despicable,” and demanding that the White House “apologize to our 19 million Veterans and their families for using them as pawns in [its] fear and smear, lie and deny campaign.”
But it’s easy to understand why Perry might be sensitive to such barbs.
The chair of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus speaks often about his time in the military. And on on his official website Perry says that “Americans owe a debt of gratitude to our country’s bravest individuals,” and that he “remains committed to providing the best care possible for them.”
Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, and a a co-chair of the House’s bipartisan Problem Solver’s Caucus, who has voted with Democrats on some issues in the past, faces a likely 2024 rematch against Democrat Ashley Ehasz, a veteran.
Fitzpatrick’s Twitter feed features him prominently dining with service members on National Armed Services Day along with other, military friendly postings.
In a separate tweet, Fitzpatrick touted a Problem Solver’s Caucus plan to “create a bipartisan, independent commission to deal with the long-term sustainability of our debt and deficit.”
Democrats weren’t having it.
“Last month, Scott Perry and Brian Fitzpatrick supported the ‘Default on America Act,’ which would gut health care for America’s veterans in order to advance their party’s extreme agenda,” a DCCC spokesperson told the Capital-Star, using the Democratic nickname for the bill. “The DCCC will continue to remind Pennsylvania voters of Perry and Fitzpatrick’s decision to put veterans’ benefits on the chopping block.”
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