Peltola supports debt ceiling agreement

woman at mic in studio.
Rep. Mary Peltola in the KMXT studio on May 27, 2023.(Brian Venua/KMXT)

The U.S. House will vote Wednesday on an agreement to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, and Alaska Congresswoman Mary Peltola supports the deal, a spokesman said Tuesday.

For other Democrats, the worst parts of the agreement the White House and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy struck Sunday are in a 25-page section called “Permitting Reform.” They include changes to the National Environmental Policy Act that are aimed at speeding permits for everything from highways to oil drilling.

But Peltola likes that section.

“I have been expressing to my caucus the importance of permitting reform. And if that’s one of the elements of this deal, I think that would be very good for Alaska and America,” she said in an interview with KMXT Saturday in Kodiak, where she was attending the island’s annual Crab Fest.

Peltola’s position highlights her willingness to step outside of party lines. In particular, it puts her at odds with fellow Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee, who’ve issued detailed statements denouncing the permitting reform section. They say the changes would gut environmental protection and benefit Big Oil.

Peltola said a faster permitting process wouldn’t just benefit the fossil fuel industry.

“It’s just cumbersome to permit a renewable energy project as it is a petroleum project. And we cannot afford to wait five years or 10 years to transition,” she said.

It’s not clear yet how many Democratic votes House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will need to lift the debt ceiling. He may need several dozen, depending on how many Republicans join right-wing members of his caucus who are rejecting the bill.

Peltola said the deal is preferable to a government shutdown, though she aligns with most Democrats against the imposition of new work requirements for government assistance, like federal nutrition programs.

“It would not be my preference to be cutting programs to the poorest of the poor and actually nutrition programs taking food literally out of peoples’ mouths,” she said.

The deal puts stricter work requirements on adults under 55 without dependents for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or food stamps, and welfare payments. Current work requirements for SNAP benefits apply for adults 49 and younger without dependents.

But the deal also expands SNAP benefits for other groups, including homeless individuals and veterans. 

Peltola said there’s already an exhaustive process for vetting SNAP recipients, and work requirements are hard to apply in the state, particularly in rural areas.

“That’s much more complicated in Alaska when you’re talking about very small communities that may not have many jobs,” Peltola said. 

The congresswoman was not part of the negotiations. She said she kept up with developments over the weekend through a text chain with other House Democrats.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her Read more about Lizhere.

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