Debt Ceiling Legislation Avoids Economic Catastrophe, But Will Cause Other Harms

Statement by David Watkins, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Jun 2, 2023

President Biden is poised to sign legislation that will suspend the U.S. debt limit, averting a default that would have sent the economy into a tailspin. Extremist lawmakers extracted harmful concessions in exchange for the votes necessary to pass the bill.

Below is a statement by David Watkins, director of government affairs for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“Defaulting on our national debt would have been catastrophic for the United States and had substantial ripple effects across the entire world. While we can be grateful that we avoided economic catastrophe, there are people who will be hurting as a result of the provisions in this deal, including impoverished older people and environmental justice communities.

“The expanded work requirements added to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, mean older people who have had trouble finding work could lose access to essential food assistance, even as data show that work requirements don’t alleviate poverty or improve employment outcomes.

“Rubber stamping approval for the Mountain Valley Pipeline is a slap in the face to local communities whose health and environment will be harmed by this project. It’s also an egregious giveaway to fossil fuel interests at time when we face an urgent climate crisis.

“The National Environmental Policy Act—the crown jewel in the laws that can protect environmental justice communities from harmful projects—wasn’t broken and didn’t need to be fixed. The damaging provisions in the bill that undercut NEPA will have profoundly negative consequences. Some of the changes, such as putting a page limit on environmental impact statements, are just juvenile.

“Meanwhile, the transmission study mandated by this bill will, at best, do no harm and at worst could delay decisions another two years while a study is being conducted that will tell us things that we already know.

“Thankfully, some of the extreme provisions House Republican were demanding, such as rescinding investments in clean energy that are part of the Inflation Reduction Act, did not come to pass.

“But let’s be clear. Extremist lawmakers were willing to hold the nation’s credit hostage to their narrow partisan interests and created an entirely manufactured crisis that stood to harm working people the most. Playing chicken is no way to run a country or show leadership.”

In addition to Watkins, the following UCS experts are available for interviews:

Food and Environment Deputy Director Karen Perry Stillerman can speak about the changes in the SNAP program.

UCS Transmission Policy Manager Sam Gomberg can discuss how the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) already has substantial authority to drive investments in the transmission system. Filling the empty FERC seats with commissioners who understand the challenges to deploying clean energy and are committed to using the authority the commission already has to effect the necessary changes will go a long way to addressing these challenges.