As the U. S. Treasury Department’s August 2 deadline for raising the federal debt limit approaches, Congress and the White House are intensifying efforts to reach an agreement that would allow a debt limit increase bill to be passed. By the end of the week, the efforts seemed more rhetorical than substantive, however, as fundamental differences remain unresolved. Last week, two leading Republicans, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), walked out of debt limit negotiations being led by Vice President Joe Biden, citing the White House’s unwillingness to exclude the idea of increasing revenues (taxes). Contingent on the outcome of deficit reduction negotiations is spending for Medicaid, Medicare, and other safety net programs, all of which are vital to people living with HIV.
The move by Rep. Cantor and Sen. Kyl led to the suspension of the Biden-led negotiations and has forced President Obama to intervene in order to avoid the complete collapse of talks. The Biden talks had reportedly identified between $1.4-$1.7 trillion in cuts to programs, although Obama maintains that any approach to cutting the deficit must be balanced, meaning that revenue increases must be included to avoid devastating cuts to many government run programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and education. At a Wednesday press conference at the White House, the President strongly reaffirmed his support for a balanced approach, saying “We can bridge differences and not hurt the economy.”
We are now in the beginning of a critical period. On August 2, the US Government will run out of tools to pay the bills we have already accrued, as has been acknowledged by Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury, and more recently by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This is not new spending, but obligations that we have already incurred as approved by Congress. President Obama compared it to buying a car on credit and making the payments over time. As the President noted, we cannot choose which bill to pay; we must have the ability to pay them all. We do not want to risk paying interest to China and not being able to pay social security checks or VA benefits, for example.
There is near total recognition of the political reality that raising the federal debt limit will require an agreement to reduce significantly the federal deficit and long-term debt owed by the U.S. government. However, there are still sharp contrasts among Congressional Democrats, Congressional Republicans, and the President on how to reduce the federal deficit and the debt. Republicans have drawn a line in the sand by saying that they will not agree to any revenue increases, while Democrats and President Obama insist that an absence of revenue increase will necessitate devastating cuts to programs that are valued by constituents from both parties.
In recognition of the tightening timeline and in response to a challenge from the President, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), cancelled the Senate’s week-long recess for the
July 4th holiday.
AIDS United is strongly urging everyone to call your Representative, Senators and White House to tell them to solve the federal deficit crisis now. Tell them to use a balanced approach to solving this problem, and not to disproportionately cut funding for health, safety net programs or drastically alter Medicaid or Medicare. Long term Medicaid expansion is critical for those living with HIV that will become eligible for Medicaid along with the Affordable Care Act in 2014.
Take action and make the calls!
You can call your Representative and Senators by clicking this link, and you can call the White House comment line (1-888-245-0215) and/or to send an on-line message to the white house.
You can also make your voice heard by signing on to a community sign-on letter that urges Congress to increase funding for domestic HIV/AIDS programs in the Fiscal Year 2012 Labor-HHS-Education, Transportation/HUD, and Financial Services appropriations bills.
Read the sign-on letter here
If you would like to sign-on, please email Sarah Grigsby-Reiser at SIECUS at email@example.com with the following information:
Location (if not national)
The deadline for signatures is COB July 15th.