WASHINGTON – Just last week, Rep. Adam Smith warned that the nation’s debt ceiling had to be raised immediately.
“This is non-negotiable,” said the Tacoma Democrat.
But on Monday, when the House finally decided to increase the debt limit, Smith voted against it.
For starters, Smith didn’t like what congressional leaders left out of the legislation.
He complained that the debt package didn’t include any tax increases and predicted it would result in “devastating cuts” to scientific research, education, roads and bridges and national security.
“To prevent the worst of these cuts from taking effect, revenue must be on the table,” said Smith, 46, who’s serving his eighth term.
In an interview Tuesday, Smith said it marked the first time in his career that he had voted against increasing the debt limit.
“I will tell you – I thought about it long and hard,” he said.
In hindsight, Smith said, he might have voted differently “if it had come down to one vote and we were staring at default.” But he said lawmakers had to choose between a default or a package of cuts that goes against “everything that I believe in.”
“It’s a horrific, horrific choice,” Smith said. “This plan that was put in front of us puts us on a path to massive, massive cuts in discretionary spending, with no revenue – no revenues whatsoever – and I could not endorse that plan.”
But with backing from 270 members, the plan won a “huge endorsement” from the House, Smith said.
“All of these things that I think are pretty important are going to be destroyed. … The thing that’s really kind of underreported in all of this is the choices that face us if we don’t find some way to get new revenue,” he said.
On Thursday, Smith argued for an increase in the debt limit in an op-ed published in The News Tribune, saying that partisan and ideological extremists had “hijacked this issue without thought to consequences.”
“We are legally obligated to pay bills in excess of the money we bring in, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, salaries for all federal employees including military, as well as contracts for goods and services purchased from businesses,” he said.
And with the nation set to default on Tuesday if Congress didn’t act, Smith said Congress had “no more time for dogma or righteousness holding up this vote.”
“America is on the brink of default,” he warned.
Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the point of his op-ed was to make clear that he would vote to raise the debt limit “with no other attachments to it.”
By Monday morning, as many of his colleagues were promising to support the debt limit package, Smith was undecided. His spokeswoman said Smith was listening to his constituents and studying the package closely in advance of the vote.
After the vote, he called it “a flawed piece of legislation” that did not help the country’s long-term fiscal and economic woes.
The day did include one big highlight for Smith: His very close friend, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, showed up for her first vote since getting shot in the head in early January in Tucson.
While most House members were surprised by her appearance, Smith was prepared. He received an e-mail from Giffords’ chief of staff earlier in the day, saying she was on her way to Capitol Hill.
“It was terrific,” Smith said. “It was great to see.”