Sen. Tester raises alarm on debt-ceiling vote

by Mike Dennison

HELENA – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., raised the alarm Tuesday about Congress defaulting on the nation’s debts, saying the vote to raise the federal debt ceiling by Nov. 3 should be non-negotiable.

Demands by some Republicans for long-term budget cuts in exchange for supporting a higher debt ceiling is “playing chicken with our our economy,” and should not be tolerated, he told Montana reporters in a teleconference.

“If Congress doesn’t act, we face some very, very serious consequences,” he said. “It won’t just impact Congress our federal employees. It will affect every single American. … Credit markets would freeze, the value of the dollar would plummet, interest rates would skyrocket.”

Congressional approval of the higher debt ceiling is needed to authorize the federal government to continue to pay its debts and bills, beyond Nov. 3.

The U.S. House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a contingency plan that would prioritize certain payments, if the debt ceiling isn’t raised. Interest on government debt and Social Security payments would be at the top of the list.

U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., is a co-sponsor of the measure and plans to vote for it, his office said.

His spokeswoman, Heather Swift, said Tuesday that Zinke believes a debt-ceiling increase needs to be paired with a “real plan to get our nation out of the fiscal hole we’re in.”

She also said Zinke supports a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution and noted that the U.S. Senate, under Democratic leadership from 2009-2014, didn’t bother to propose a complete federal budget.

Tester said the House contingency plan does not address the problem and should be rejected. It would still allow a default on federal debts and harm the economy, he said.

“The bottom line is, there’s not a lot of leadership over there,” Tester said of the House. “It seems like the crazies are running the shop.”

The higher debt ceiling should be approved and members of Congress can then work together on a longer-term budget deal, he added.

“There are plenty of opportunities out there to save money,” he said. “But you don’t want to do it with a gun held to your head. You don’t make good decisions under those circumstances. And it doesn’t give the kind of predictability that business and … all Americans need.”