Kansas congressional delegation’s partisan division mirrors policy gap on debt, budget

GOP lawmakers eager to gut domestic spending, while Democrat warns of default

By: - May 16, 2023 12:14 pm
U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, R-Kansas, introduced a bill challenging federal restraint of ranch and energy producers in Kansas following federal listing of the Listing lesser prairie chicken as threatened in Kansas. (Kansas Reflector screen capture of U.S. House channel)

U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, R-Kansas, said Congress had to take a forceful step toward restraining federal spending and releasing the economy from excessive regulation in negotiations on raising the federal debt ceiling. (Kansas Reflector screen capture of U.S. House channel)

TOPEKA — Kansas Democrat Sharice Davids clashed with state’s Republican delegation in the U.S. House on a bill raising the federal debt ceiling in exchange for a decade-long spending cap and deflation of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.

Biden vowed to veto federal debt legislation shaped to undercut his administration’s tax, health and climate policies while expanding fossil fuel production and broadening work mandates in social safety-net programs. That House GOP bill failed to gain traction in the U.S. Senate, but prompted negotiations in Washington, D.C., on a potential compromise to avoid default on the national debt.

Davids, who serves the 3rd District in the Kansas City area, said members of Congress on both sides of the aisle had to do a better job protecting taxpayers. Financially derailing the government and destabilizing the economy to accomplish that goal would be unacceptable, she said.

“Threatening Kansans’ Medicare, Social Security, veterans benefits and 401(k) savings is not an appropriate negotiating tactic,” she said. “If our country defaults on the national debt, programs like Social Security and Medicare that hard-working Kansans rely on would be slashed and retirement savings lost.”

U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, a Republican representing the Wichita-based 4th District, said the Limit, Save, Grow Act approved by the House was a step toward fiscal responsibility. It was wrong for the federal government to repeatedly careen toward self-imposed debt limits without addressing spending challenges, he said.

“Spending trillions of dollars each year while borrowing about $45,000 per second is dangerously unsustainable and puts our country in peril,” Estes said. “We can’t wait any longer. We have to start correcting the federal mismanagement of taxpayer dollars.”

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, said the federal government had to keep working to reduce wasteful spending but was convinced debate about the national debt should push the government into default. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, said the federal government had to keep working to reduce wasteful spending but was worried debate on the national debt could push the government into default. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)


Kansas tally: 3-1

On Tuesday, White House and congressional leadership were to delve into another round of meetings on debt and budget issues.

Republican U.S. Reps. Tracey Mann of the rural 1st District of western Kansas, Jake LaTurner of the 2nd District in eastern Kansas and Estes voted with the slim majority — 217 to 215 — that approved the House bill. Davids voted against it along with a few Republicans.

The legislation would increase the federal debt by $1.5 trillion or cover actual debt until March 31, 2024, whichever occurred first. It would impose budget limits on the federal government through 2033 with no more than 1% increases in annual spending. The package would rescind unobligated funding appropriated to the Internal Revenue Service and to address COVID-19.

The measure would repeal or modify tax credits for renewable and clean energy, alternative fuels and electric vehicles, but expedite oil, natural gas and mineral development, require additional oil and gas leasing and curtail royalties and fees. It featured work requirements for Medicaid and amplified work mandates for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

The House legislation would nullify Biden administration actions to cancel federal student loan debt and require federal rules likely to result in a $100 million influence on the economy to be embraced by Congress prior to implementation.


‘No-limit credit card’

Mann said the plan outlined by House Republicans would revoke Biden’s “no-limit credit card” while reducing the “federal regulatory state and promote pro-growth energy and economic policies.” He said the legislation would reduce American reliance on financial firepower of China, “defund the IRS expansion,” curb inflation, and protect Medicare, Social Security and the national defense.

“I voted ‘yes’ on this legislation because it’s the first step in a negotiation to get government spending under control,” Mann said.

LaTurner, who was elected to Congress in 2020, said he witnessed two years of Democrats “recklessly swiping America’s credit card with no regard for our skyrocketing national debt.”

He added: “It’s immoral and irresponsible to raise the debt limit without addressing our country’s unchecked federal spending.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican, said he was convinced the greatest long-term threat to the United States was the surging national debt. He said the $31 trillion debt was unsustainable and cost taxpayers $500 billion in interest during 2022.

“There is historical precedent for coupling spending reductions with increasing the debt limit,” Marshall said. “The president will not get permission from me to increase the debt limit without real substantive cuts to our spending.”


A Kansas snapshot

Davids warned of economic peril associated with default on the national debt, and the center-left think tank Third Way attempted to quantify consequences of a default on American families and businesses in every state.

Zach Moller, director of economic programs at Third Way, said default would cost an estimated 29,000 Kansans their jobs and force as many as 3 million Americans out of work.

Default would weaken the U.S. dollar, make imports more expensive, and negatively influence business lending and mortgage costs. The economic disruption could cost a Kansas homeowner as much as $80,000 over life of a new mortgage, he said.

He said it could result in 350,000 households in Kansas missing Social Security checks, while individuals nearing retirement could suffer losses in 401(k) accounts.

“Default is not a good option,” Moller said. “Policymakers need to come together to find a solution. We are hopeful that President Biden bringing congressional leaders together at the White House will make a difference.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.