Missouri Republican Schmitt says he’ll vote against debt limit deal in major Senate vote

Emily Curiel/ecuriel@kcstar.com

Sen. Eric Schmitt said Thursday that he will vote against a deal intended to stave off an historic default on the country’s debt, bucking bipartisan compromise in his first high-profile vote in Congress.

The deal, negotiated by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, raises the debt limit for two years until January 2025 while capping some federal spending and imposing work requirements on some social welfare programs.

“Missourians didn’t send me here to support the status quo, they sent me here to fight for change,” Schmitt, a freshman Missouri Republican, said in a news release. “This is an important moment for our country, as we have the opportunity to rein in spending and enact much-needed structural reform — unfortunately the Fiscal Responsibility Act does neither.”

The debt ceiling is effectively the credit card limit of the country — in order to borrow more money to pay for already approved spending, Congress has to raise the limit.

Federal spending exceeded the debt limit in January, but the Treasury Department took “extraordinary measures” to continue to pay the bills. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the country would no longer be able to pay all of its bills by Monday.

In rejecting the deal, Schmitt is staking out a lane in the more conservative faction of the Republican caucus, many of whom have been critical of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who has led the party in the Senate for 16 years. Schmitt pledged during his 2022 Senate campaign that he would oppose McConnell as leader, even though a political action committee closely tied to McConnell helped Schmitt defeat former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens in the GOP primary race.

Schmitt’s decision signals a change in approach from his predecessor, former Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican who McConnell often relied on to get bipartisan deals through the Senate.

The bill caps spending outside of Medicare and Social Security while imposing new work requirements for people between 50-54 who qualify for the Supplement Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as “food stamps” and the Temporarily Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides support for low-income families. But it also exempts veterans, people who are homeless and people younger than 24 who were in foster care when they turned 18.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill will make about 78,000 more people eligible for SNAP benefits.

It also pulls back $20 billion in new spending for the Internal Revenue Service, gives $45 billion for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits while serving overseas, prevents Biden from unilaterally extending a moratorium on student loan debt payments and rescinds some unspent pandemic relief funding. The Congressional Budget Office said the overall package would reduce the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years compared to projections in May.

On the Senate floor Thursday, McConnell congratulated the House for its bipartisan passage of the bill. While more House Democrats voted in favor of the deal than House Republicans, it had enough votes to easily clear the chamber and the support of nearly two thirds of the Republican caucus.

“They took an urgent and important step in the right direction for the health of our economy and the future of our country,” McConnell said. “The fiscal responsibility act avoids the catastrophic consequences of a default on our nation’s debt. And just as importantly it makes the most serious headway in years toward curbing Washington Democrats’ reckless spending addiction.”

But the bill is expected to get little support from Senate Republicans from Kansas and Missouri. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, said earlier this week that he won’t support the deal because it doesn’t deal with trade policy. And Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican, criticized the bill on the grounds that it would add more debt.

“At the end of the day, I’m disappointed in President Biden,’ Marshall said on Fox Business earlier this week. “He continues to govern like he’s the president of the woke Green Socialist Party, not like he’s a moderate that he campaigned to be.”