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Republicans ‘blink’ and agree to raise debt ceiling for 3 months

By Masao Suzuki

San José, CA – On Jan. 23, Congressional Republicans caved in and voted for a three-month extension to the Federal Debt Limit. Up until Jan.23, the Republicans in the House of Representatives had refused to raise the debt limit, raising the specter that the U.S. government would have to choose between delaying Social Security payments, Medicare payments, payments to military, and/or interest on the national debt.

With the debt limit extended to May 18, two other deadlines face the federal government. On March 1, the ‘automatic’ across the board spending cuts are supposed to take place. These cuts were voted into law in 2011 and are taking into effect because the government could not agree on how to make the cuts. $55 billion would be cut from military spending (exempting military pay), and $55 billion from non-defense spending (exempting Social Security and Medicare).

The other deadline is March 27, when funding for the federal government runs out. The federal government doesn’t have a budget in place for Fiscal Year 2013, which began Oct. 1, 2012. Instead, there is a temporary agreement to continue funding at last year’s level through March 27. If there is no budget and no agreement to extend funding by then, a partial shut-down of the federal government would start. During the last shut-down in 1995 and 1996, health care for veterans, toxic waste clean-up, national parks and immigration applications were among the programs cut back or stopped.

Congressional Republicans, headed by former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, now claim that they will put forward a plan to balance the federal budget in ten years without raising taxes. In past budget proposals, which have called for balanced budgets in 30 years, the Republicans have targeted Social Security and Medicare, even though these two programs have not contributed to the federal government debt. The Republicans will try to use the threat of across-the-board cuts and/or a partial government shutdown to get what they really want: cuts in the safety net for the elderly and disabled, in order to protect tax cuts for the rich and continued funding for the military, which protects the worldwide empire of U.S. corporate interests.

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