IBEW : Why The Debt Limit Matters To Us

Congressional leaders and President Biden continued negotiations to break through a deadlock over spending priorities and policy changes demanded by House Republicans over the debt ceiling, as time ran out before a June 1 government default.

The IBEW urged Congress to lift the U.S. debt limit as the high-stakes standoff threatened to upend the economy only days before the federal government ran out of money.

Failing to suspend or increase the debt limit would have dire effects on IBEW members’ livelihoods and all working Americans, IBEW President Kenneth W. Cooper said in a letter to members of Congress in which he detailed the catastrophic outcomes for IBEW members.

The jobs of IBEW members, like most Americans, are premised on market certainty, which includes the federal government upholding its debt obligations, Cooper said. Therefore, in addition to shrinking IBEW members’ pensions and 401(k) accounts, failing to raise the debt limit could create significant economic fallout, costing IBEW jobs and causing undue financial harm to members and their loved ones. While the stalemate continued, the IBEW Government Affairs reiterated this message.

President Biden is holding the line against proposed spending cuts he has characterized as unacceptable.

Cooper also said that “failure to lift or suspend the debt limit would likely imperil critical federal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare payments, funding for infrastructure, servicemember salaries and more.”

The U.S. hit its debt ceiling in January, and the Treasury Department has taken "extraordinary measures" to avoid default.

Since 1960, Congress has acted 78 times to raise, extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit. This occurred 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents, the Treasury Department says. If Congress did not do so in 2023, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that the federal government would begin to default on its financial obligations on June 1.

The Republican-led House and Democrat-controlled Senate finally agreed on legislation increasing the debt limit at the end of May. President Biden signed it into law on June 3


In his letter, Cooper said that the U.S. defaulting on its debt would cost the economy up to 6 million jobs, wipe out as much as $15 trillion in household wealth and send the unemployment rate surging to 9 percent.

“Playing politics and gambling with the livelihoods of American workers is irresponsible,” Cooper said. “I urge Congress to immediately increase or suspend the debt limit and avoid significant and irreparable damage to hard-working American families.”

A debt limit increase allows the government to finance its existing legal obligations that Congresses and presidents of both parties have made in the past. The U.S. has never defaulted on its legal obligations, and doing so would result in economic catastrophe, the Treasury Department said.

In April, the House passed the LimitSave and Grow Act that would, in part, raise the debt limit while rescinding tax credits meant to boost labor standards and union employment in the renewable energy sector, jeopardizing multiemployer pension benefits, slashing funding for veterans’ health care and wiping out food assistance to Medicaid recipients. President Biden has vowed to veto it.

Meanwhile, Democrats are circulating legislation that would trigger a debt ceiling vote if it reaches the 218- signature threshold. This procedural move, a discharge petition, is currently five votes shy of 218.