The West

’Backed into a corner’: Freshman California Democrat votes ‘no’ on budget deal

California’s 10th District Representative Josh Harder (left) talks with a young supporter, Marlen Pimentel age 6, at the Fourth of July Parade in downtown Modesto on July 4, 2019.
California’s 10th District Representative Josh Harder (left) talks with a young supporter, Marlen Pimentel age 6, at the Fourth of July Parade in downtown Modesto on July 4, 2019.

Freshman Rep. Josh Harder voted against a budget deal that would raise the debt ceiling and help avert a government shutdown in the fall, joining a group of both moderate and progressive Democrats and staunch Republicans in discontent over the deal.

But the deal was approved by the House anyway, 284-149, as neither Democrats nor Republicans want to be blamed for a failure to raise the debt ceiling on time or contributing to a possible government shutdown. For example, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Florida, who leads the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, spoke against the budget deal Thursday, but declined to take an official caucus position on it.

“While we don’t want to play chicken with debt ceiling, I’m concerned with the significant spending increases. We shouldn’t do that without having a broader conversation about our debt and being more responsible,” Murphy said. “We’ve been governing from one crisis to the next and that basically eliminates our ability to make reasonable, rational decisions about what our priorities are.”

Sixteen Democrats, 132 Republicans and an independent who was formerly a Republican voted against the budget deal.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has indicated his department will run out of money by September if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, and Congress is scheduled to recess, sending members back to their home districts, for the month of August. Mnuchin, on behalf of the White House, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, agreed to a general outline of the budget in return for raising the debt ceiling — the details of that budget will be hammered out in the fall.

The deal raises spending by about $322 billion, with $172 billion going toward national defense and the remaining $150 billion on domestic programs. Trump tweeted his support of the deal Thursday morning.

Harder, D-Turlock, said he opposed it Thursday because he wanted to send a message to Democratic leaders that it was a missed opportunity to address out-of-control spending and the national debt.

“This was done behind closed doors and without any real conversation, at least in the Democratic caucus, about where our deficits are headed or what to do with that,” Harder said. “I don’t want to get too much into what is the right deal, but this isn’t it.”

Pelosi, in a speech defending the compromise on the House floor, praised it for “investing in middle class priorities that advance the health, financial security and well-being of the American people and enhancing our national security.”

While Harder didn’t advocate for eliminating the August recess to work on the deal, he said they could stick around “at least a couple more days” to find a better one. Harder said he and others feel “backed into a corner,” and this was about sending a message to leadership. Other vulnerable Democrats such as Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-South Carolina, took similar stances.

The Republican House Freedom Caucus is opposing the deal for similar reasons — citing “unsustainable debt” — though unlike that group Harder said he is unwilling to trigger a government shutdown over his concerns.

“I’m absolutely not going to do anything to jeopardize our international credibility with lenders, that is a huge priority, and we’re not going to shut down the government, I don’t work with those kind of tactics,” Harder said. “But I’m trying to send a message to the Democratic leadership, and I’m not the only one, that this is not the way that we should be doing business.”

Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.