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Khanna Voted For — and Against — Raising Debt Limit During Trump Era

In the early hours of Feb. 9, 2018, Rep. Ro Khanna voted against a budget bill that also raised the federal debt limit. Khanna opposed the bill because it did not include a provision to protect so-called Dreamers — immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Yet, in a CNN interview on the current debt limit impasse, Khanna claimed he set aside his partisan differences with Donald Trump and “voted to pay our bills” when Trump was president.

Khanna, May 2: When I was in Congress, and Donald Trump was president, I didn’t disagree — I disagreed with a lot of his policies, but I voted to raise the debt ceiling. I voted to pay our bills.

The California Democrat did on two other occasions, but not on Feb. 9, 2018, when he voted against the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which raised the debt ceiling by more than $1.5 trillion.

Debt Ceiling Debate, 2023

Khanna made his remarks about his debt ceiling votes during the Trump era in the context of the current showdown between Democrats and Republicans over the nation’s debt limit of $31.4 trillion — which was reached on Jan. 19. The Treasury Department has been taking “extraordinary measures” since then to continue borrowing money, but the Treasury and nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office say the government will run out of funds to pay its bills in early June.

Without the ability to borrow funds, “the government would have to delay making payments for some activities, default on its debt obligations, or both,” CBO has said.

Economists warn that a default would disrupt a U.S. economy that is already teetering on the brink of a recession.

“A default would be a catastrophic blow to the already fragile economy,” the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, Mark Zandi, told a Senate subcommittee in March. “Global financial markets and the economy would be upended, and even if resolved quickly, Americans would likely pay for this default for generations, as global investors would rightly believe that the federal government’s finances have been politicized and that a time may come when they would not be paid what they are owed when owed it.”

Democrats, including Khanna, accuse House Republicans of politicizing the government’s finances.

Republicans took control of the House in January, and they are insisting on spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit. 

The House narrowly passed legislation on April 26 that would raise the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion to $32.9 trillion and cap discretionary spending over the next 10 years, which would reduce projected budget deficits by $4.8 trillion over that time, according to CBO’s analysis of the bill. 

Democratic leaders say spending cuts should be addressed in the annual appropriations process. They accuse the Republicans of holding the economy hostage.

“I’m not willing to have a conversation under a hostage situation,” Khanna told CNN in the May 2 interview.

President Joe Biden has invited the top two Republican leaders – House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – to the White House to discuss the debt ceiling impasse next week, and both have reportedly agreed to the meeting.

On CNN, Khanna said the Republicans were acting “irresponsibly.”

“I mean who doesn’t pay their bills?” Khanna said. “We pay our bills as Americans. It’s patriotic to pay our bills.”

But in February 2018, Khanna voted against enabling the government to pay its bills.

Debt Ceiling Bills Under Trump

A stop-gap budget bill — the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2018 and Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act, 2017 — was enacted in September 2017 that kept the government funded through Dec. 8, 2017, and provided emergency aid for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It also suspended the debt limit, which at the time was $19.8 trillion, and reset it at about $20.5 trillion on Dec. 9, 2017. During the three-month suspension period, the government borrowed $647 billion.

This was the first debt limit increase under Trump, who surprised his own party by agreeing to a deal with Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. The bill passed 316-90 in the House, with only Republicans opposing it. Khanna voted for it.

“Mr. Trump not only accepted the spending-and-debt plan advanced by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leaders, but also aligned himself with them on immigration,” the New York Times wrote at the time. As the Times explained, Trump had promised to work with Democrats on a plan to make permanent the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which his predecessor, President Barack Obama, had created to temporarily protect those brought into the country illegally at a young age.

But the stop-gap legislation was short-lived. Just three months later, the debt limit suspension had expired, and the U.S. had once again reached its debt limit. The Treasury Department under Trump began to take “extraordinary measures” to keep the government from defaulting on its debt until Congress could raise the debt limit.

A new budget deal was needed to keep the government funded and able to borrow money.

But this time, Trump’s negotiations with the Democrats were more contentious.

The House Democrats, led by Pelosi, wanted to address the DACA issue in the next budget deal, but agreement on the issue faltered. Congress repeatedly passed short-term budget bills to keep the government funded without extending the debt limit or addressing immigration.

Negotiations dragged on so long that the government at one point ran out of money, resulting in a three-day partial government shutdown in January 2018 before Congress passed legislation extending funding until Feb. 8, 2018.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 9, 2018, after the federal government briefly had run out of money again, the House and Senate approved the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. The bill, which Trump signed the same day, continued government funding for six weeks and suspended the debt limit through March 1, 2019, which allowed the government to resume borrowing for more than a year.

“After that suspension, the limit was then reset at $21.988 trillion,” an increase of more than $1.5 trillion, as the Congressional Research Service explains in “The Debt Limit Since 2011.”

The bill passed the House 240-186, with 119 Democrats — including Khanna and Pelosi — voting against it.

In a Feb. 28, 2018, newsletter to constituents, Khanna said he voted against the budget bill because it didn’t address DACA.

“In early February, I voted against a budget deal excluding protections for the Dreamers. While the budget passed, it did nothing to address DACA,” the newsletter said. “On Feb. 26, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the President’s order to let DACA expire. This means the program will survive at least through the fall and gives Dreamers a temporary reprieve from deportation and Congress more time to work on an agreement. I will keep fighting for a vote on a clean DREAM Act.”

A year later, Khanna voted — as did most Democrats — to raise the debt limit as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019. That bill, which suspended the debt limit through July 31, 2021, passed the House by a vote of 284-149, with the support of 219 Democrats, and became law. It did not address DACA, either.

Marie Baldassarre, Khanna’s spokesperson, told us that what the congressman said was correct. “He said he voted to raise the debt ceiling under President Trump and he did,” Baldassarre said.

It is correct — but only up to a point.

In his interview, Khanna boasted about voting to raise the debt ceiling under Trump, despite their political differences. But he ignored his disagreement with Trump in 2018 that led the congressman to vote against legislation that raised the debt limit.

Baldassarre also said that Khanna “believes there should be a clean debt ceiling vote,” referring to standalone legislation that addresses only the debt limit and no other issues. But all three bills under Trump that raised the debt limit weren’t “clean bills.” And, as we said, Khanna voted for two of them and voted against one of them.

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