PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Democratic congressional candidate Aaron Regunberg broke with his leading rivals on Wednesday, saying he would vote against the pending bill codifying the debt-limit agreement if he were currently in Congress.
A survey by 12 News of the dozen-plus candidates running to replace David Cicilline found Regunberg was one of only two who would have voted no on the deal between President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy if they were currently in the House. The other was political newcomer Mickeda Barnes.
Regunberg noted that the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, had also come out against the bill. “This deal rewards Republican hostage-taking at the expense of working families,” he said in a statement.
“We need Democrats in Congress who will fight tooth and nail to disarm these Republican extremists,” Regunberg added. “That’s why I’m in this race.”
While most other Democrats seeking Cicilline’s seat expressed varying levels of distaste for the bargain Biden struck with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, all said they were unwilling to take the risk of torpedoing a measure which will prevent an unprecedented federal default.
All four Democrats who represent Southeast New England in Congress — Cicilline, Seth Magaziner, Jake Auchincloss and Bill Keating — voted in favor of the bill Wednesday night. It cleared the House easily on a 314-117 roll call.
“Playing politics with vital programs like Social Security upon which so many Rhode Islanders rely and threatening to send our country into a recession is unacceptable,” said Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, another top Democratic candidate to replace Cicilline. “While this bill is not perfect, we cannot let Republican extremists hold our country hostage.”
Former White House staffer Gabe Amo praised “the hard work of President Biden and my former colleagues in the Biden-Harris administration” that went into reaching the agreement, arguing it “would protect our nation’s economy and the benefits we have promised to Rhode Island’s seniors, veterans, and working families.” Amo also criticized Republicans for “political gamesmanship.”
State Sen. Sandra Cano echoed the criticisms, but said, “the stakes for the American people are so high that voting yes is the only rational option.” She added, “In a perfect world, we would eliminate the debt ceiling so that this type of brinkmanship could not continue to threaten our livelihood.”
Former state official Nick Autiello described himself as “deeply troubled by elements of this deal,” singling out the bill’s new work requirements for childless adults to qualify for food stamps. He also said Biden should have asserted his authority under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment to ignore the debt limit, which he argued should be repealed altogether.
State Sen. Ana Quezada said, “I know from my experience as a state senator that the first and most important job of the legislature is to keep the government funded, running, and paying its bills on behalf of the people it serves.” Still, she said of the bill’s provisions, “I hate some of it.”
State Rep. Nathan Biah said, “While I disagree with many parts of the deal and hate the idea of Republicans using the full faith and credit of the United States as a bargaining chip, President Biden and his team have negotiated the best deal possible at this moment of divided government.”
State Rep. Marvin Abney said he would have voted in favor of the bill, but offered no explanation.
Among the others expressing reluctant support for the bill, Jamestown businessman Don Carlson argued Biden deserves “kudos” for “for snatching a victory from the jaws of defeat,” while former Navy officer Walter Berbrick urged repeal of the debt ceiling. Another candidate, Stephanie Beauté, argued that “the reforms incorporated in the bill are something we can all agree on.”
State Rep. Steve Casey and Providence City Councilor John Goncalves hadn’t responded to a question about their position on the bill by Wednesday evening.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.