Local Indivisible groups rally for clean debt limit

Enterprise  photo — Michael Koff

“It’s simply about paying our bills, money that has already been spent,” said Gail Rychlewski as she rallied with others in front of Congressman Paul Tonko’s Albany office on May 24.

On Wednesday afternoon, as the deadline loomed for President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to hammer out a deal so that the United States can raise its debt limit before it has to default — widely recognized as catastrophic — a dozen or so local residents rallied in front of Congressman Paul Tonko’s Albany office to thank him for supporting a clean debt-limit bill.

In the evening, the group planned a “drive by” of the East Greenbush office of Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, the House’s third-ranking Republican, Matha Harausz of Guilderland, who organized the rally, told The Enterprise.

The rally was a joint action of three Indivisible groups from the Capital District: Bethlehem NY Indivisible, Progressive Schenectady, and Bethlehem Morning Voice Huddle.   

Bethlehem Morning Voice Huddle was formed after Donald Trump’s 2016 election and now identifies with the Indivisible movement. That progressive movement takes its name from a 23-page booklet written by congressional staffers in 2016, “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.”

Tonko was in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday for a scheduled session of Congress, said Manika Elahi, an outreach manager for Tonko. He stood outside Tonko’s Dove Street office listening to the rallyers who held signs and gave brief speeches.

“Paul Tonko, thank you for fighting for us,” said printed signs carried by several of the group’s members.

A handmade sign said, “No MAGA Default.” Another said, “Debt too high? Tax the wealthy.” A third said, “Thank you, Paul Tonko, for protecting Social Security,” and a fourth said, “Republicans want to de-fund the U.S.”

The speeches echoed those sentiments, stressed by similar groups across the nation as part of Indivisible’s MAGA Default Crisis week of actions.

“It’s simply about paying our bills, money that has already been spent,” said Gail Rychlewski, who also praised Tonko for being “exceedingly approachable and knowledgeable.”

“Paul Tonko and Democrats are not holding the economy hostage,” said Joe Seeman, noting, as a Saratoga county resident, he had formerly been represented by Stefanik.

He said Stefanik and MAGA Republicans were holding everyone hostage. “Default would mean stock and bond values plummeting …. This is not a game of chicken,” said Seeman.

Jill Loew of Guilderland said it was important for the group, in existence for seven years, to keep at it. She also said that raising the age for Social Security amounts to a cut.

Toni McGrath said it is important to make sure that cuts do not land disproportionately on the backs of the vulnerable and the poor.

Elahi, Tonko’s staffer, perhaps alluding to the slogan The Washington Post adopted after Trump’s election, told the group, “Democracies die in darkness. They die when people don’t … show up.”

He also said that Tonko had made a promise that “the full faith and credit of the United States is maintained” and he said the congressman “will not settle for anything but a clean debt-ceiling raising.”

The United States hit its debt limit in January, causing the Treasury Department to use “extraordinary measures” to avoid default.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote a letter to McCarthy on May 1, stating, “If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, it would cause severe hardship to American families, harm our global leadership position, and raise questions about our ability to defend our national security interests.”

Yellen has said that, if Congress does not raise or suspend the debt limit, the country could run out of money to pay its bills as soon as June 1.

McCarthy is in a difficult position because, in the 15 votes it took him to get elected speaker, he made concessions to the far-right Republicans. In April, the House passed a debt-limit bill that cut back on some of Biden’s major initiatives for stemming climate change and altering tax law.

Some liberal Democrats have opposed Biden negotiating and urged instead that he invoke the 14th Amendment to avoid default.

Although both Biden and McCarthy had publicly said that the United States would not default, as of Wednesday, May 24, when the local group rallied, no resolution was in sight.

However, on Saturday, May 27, Biden and McCarthy said they had reached an agreement to cut and cap some government spending for a two-year period, during which time the debt limit would be lifted; Congress still has to pass the plan.

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