The U.S. debt ceiling drama came to an end Tuesday with President Barack Obama signing the legislation into law, a bill that was described as “the best of no good alternatives.”
For a divided San Diego congressional caucus – three voted for the bill, two against – it was a hard decision to make. Three members of San Diego’s delegation talked to us about their decision.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine
Hunter, one of the 66 House Republicans who voted against the bill late Monday, voiced concerns on the likelihood that the special committee created under the plan will fail to reach an agreement and therefore “trigger” $600 billion in defense budget cuts.
“I see a high possibility that the budget ‘trigger’ would kick in,” Hunter said. “A ‘yes’ vote would be voting for tax increases and possible defense cuts, and a ‘no’ vote would ensure that the sequestration kicks in. We are going to be voting either for a bad deal, or a really bad deal.”
The debt-ceiling increase will be done in two phases:
The first phase includes $917 billion in savings, including a roughly $420 billion reduction in the national security budget. The cuts would be accompanied by a $900 billion increase in the debt ceiling.
If the super committee cannot agree on how to achieve the required $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction or if Congress fails to approve the committee’s recommendations by December 23, an automatic across-the-board spending cuts of $1.2 trillion, equally split between defense and non-defense spending, would be triggered.
“If the sequestration gets kicked in, our military is going to be gutted, completely gutted,” Hunter said. “We can’t go to Japan when they have a nuclear disaster, we can’t go to Haiti if they have a natural disaster, and we can’t send our navy to the Mediterranean to help out with earthquakes in Italy. We simply won’t have the navy ships, the personnel or the equipment to do what the American people expect the military to do, and that’s to keep us safe in the homeland and protect our allies.”
Hunter even said he might have voted in favor of the bill if it mandated a balanced budget amendment – a legislation that would make Congress spend only what it takes in — which Hunter considers as “the only way out of this mess.”
“Every family has to do it, every business has to do it, and the American government should have to do it too,” Hunter said.
Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego
Davis, also a member of the Armed Services Committee, supported the bill, hoping that the “breathing room” created in this bill will lead to a better solution, and in a bipartisan fashion.
Davis said that “there is definitely room to cut” because “the defense budget has doubled over the past 10 years and now makes up nearly 20 percent of the federal budget.”
According to Davis, potential cuts in military spending will not affect the U.S. military in carrying out humanitarian missions and protecting the homeland. She emphasized that the U.S. is sharing the cost on its international obligations with its partner countries.
So where can we chop off $600 billion if the trigger kicks in? Davis pointed to the military contracting system.
“We know the standard saying that ‘Pentagon has not been audited’ and I think that’s of concern,” Davis said. “During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are many contracts that really didn’t do very much for the country that we were in, and certainly not for our economy.”
Cuts can come from contracts by creating a more transparent way of following them and allowing competition. Smaller businesses are often able to do something at a lower price and they are willing to get in the game, Davis said.
All that being said, when she cast her vote, Davis knew she was making a decision “between where the greater risk is.”
“We are a large military town, and about 36 percent of our jobs are in the military,” Davis said. “The problem was, which is a greater risk? For the government to default or for us to worry that there could be some cut backs in the military complex in San Diego. It’s a reality, but we are going to be working really hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Davis made it clear that the lack of new revenue from closing tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans and corporations has not shown adequate seriousness and openness on the Republicans’ part.
Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach
Bilbray, who voted in favor, expressed his concerns about the automatic mechanisms, but thinks the likelihood of the trigger kicking in is fairly low.
“I see one big positive [side] of this whole process, which is that it has wakened everybody to the fact that the old way of doing business is just not sustainable,” Bilbray said. “When you are spending 42 percent more than you can afford, there’s going to be a lot of problems.”
Bilbray, who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, doesn’t think cutting back on spending will adversely impact the economy.
“Rather than having to inject borrowed money, we need to look at the huge resource overseas that could come back and stimulate the economy,” Bilbray said. “Rather than doing that, we’ve been borrowing from China and stealing from our grandchildren.”
Bilbray said we have about $2 trillion American capital overseas, and imposing a 35 percent repatriation tax is a “well intention,” but have put us in an “absurd situation.” We should not be outlying the importation of American capital to create jobs in America.
Overseas money should be held harmless to taxations, as long as it’s focused on research and development, construction, or manufacturing expansion, all of which can help stimulate the economy, Bilbray said.
“Washington has been willing to borrow to stimulate the economy, and we can do it without borrowing,” Bilbray said.
“This fall when we get back, we’ve got to get serious about sitting down and taking the time to look at something Thomas Jefferson proposed over 200 years ago,” Bilbray said. “It should be a bipartisan effort.”