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Welch: Debt deal must be fair, or rejected

July 9, 2011

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON — Vermont Congressman Peter Welch says he will urge fellow Democrats to vote against a deal to raise the debt ceiling if the president strikes one that is bad for lower- and middle-income Americans.

President Barack Obama and GOP leaders in Congress are expected to resume negotiations this weekend on a deal to cut the nation’s deficit and raise the debt ceiling. Talks have centered around a $2 trillion reduction, but the president has alarmed Democrats in recent days by seeking a larger $4 trillion agreement, and seemingly opening discussions on changes or cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Welch, serving his third term in the House, said Democrats must exercise their leverage to ensure a fair agreement.

“If it’s a bad deal for the American economy, for the American people; if it’s a setback, then I would have to vote no. If it’s bad for Vermont, bad for America, I will vote no,” Welch said in a telephone interview Friday. “My point is that I, in fact, want to be able to support an agreement. I think, number one, that it’s absolutely essential that we don’t default on our debt.”

Welch said Republicans have so far given very little ground during negotiations. The White House has sought the elimination of certain tax breaks and deductions for those in the top tax bracket, not increases in the tax rate. GOP leaders initially rejected any new tax revenuebefore indicating that closing some tax loopholes would be acceptable if offsetting tax cuts are included elsewhere in the agreement.

“What I’m seeing as we’re marching toward Aug. 2 is that the Democrats are willing to make significant cuts and (Senate Minority Leader Mitch) McConnell [R-Ky.] and the Republicans are not willing to see new revenues,” Welch said.

The White House says the debt ceiling must be raised by Aug. 2 or the country could default on its obligations and cause upheaval in financial markets.

Welch said any deal between the White House and GOP leaders in Congress must include reasonable revenue increases and no slashing of entitlement programs.

“I wouldn’t support a deal at any costs, a deal that includes significant cuts to Medicare and Social Security,” he said. “Any changes we make should be about strengthening the sustainability and strength of Social Security and Medicare.

Welch said he supported a so-called “clean extension” of the debt ceiling, a stand-alone vote not tied to deficit reduction, because he “anticipated that it would be difficult to bridge the differences in such a short amount of time.”

Most members of Congress — in both parties — are not aware of what Obama or congressional leaders are considering, Welch said.

“We don’t know what the president has in mind,” he said. “The anxiety is among my Republican colleagues as much as it is among my Democratic colleagues. It is very understandable because these negotiations are at the highest level and the details are held very close.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., met with the president Friday to discuss Democratic concerns over cuts to entitlement programs. Welch said he expects more details from leadership, following another round of negotiations at the White House on Sunday.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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