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Ryan Brown

As congressional Democrats walked a legislative minefield this week, at least one Pennsylvania member pushed a far-fetched fix that could defuse one of their biggest threats.

The Democratic leaders who control the House and half the Senate have spent days in tough negotiations – often with their own members – to pass a series of key bills. Among them are a bipartisan infrastructure funding plan, a larger bill to fund a decade’s worth of government services and a measure that would keep the government funded and allow it to pay off its debts.

That headache-inducing combination left Republicans to throw up their own roadblocks, including a threat to let the nation hit its so-called debt ceiling. If that happened, the government would run out of money to repay its creditors, potentially leading to an economically devastating default.

At least a few Pennsylvania lawmakers were working this week to remove that threat permanently.

Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-2nd District, announced a bill Thursday that would permanently suspend the debt limit, ensuring the government always has the means to pay debts as they come due. That same day, Rep. Susan Wild, D-7th District, and Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, joined as cosponsors, along with several more Democrats from other states.

“For the third Congress in a row, I have introduced measures to reform the mechanisms surrounding this arbitrary and reckless debt limit,” Boyle said on Twitter. “Now, with the Treasury on the verge of running out of money within the next month, we once again find ourselves barreling toward financial calamity.”

Similar efforts have been made before without success, although deals have sometimes been reached: The debt ceiling was suspended entirely during former president Donald Trump’s administration.

Boyle’s new bill hasn’t made it through committee, and it has little chance of immediate progress as Congress continues its intersecting legislative fights. But other novel solutions have taken root in some Washington circles, including the perennial idea that the Department of the Treasury mint a single trillion-dollar coin to help cover its debts.

Booze bill would allow home sales

Citing pandemic shutdowns and top-shelf liquor supply shortages, one state lawmaker is moving to let spirits manufacturers ship straight to purchasers’ homes.

Rep. Valerie Gaydos, R-Allegheny, said Tuesday that she will submit a bill to let distillers and other manufacturers deliver spirits if they get the appropriate license. A similar policy is already in place for winemakers in Pennsylvania.

“The time is now to allow the spirits industry to be on par with the wine industry by allowing direct shipment of spirits to Pennsylvania residents,” Gaydos said in a memo.

The proposal comes as liquor manufacturers and sellers face new hurdles – some related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Gaydos noted that state-owned liquor stores closed for months early in the pandemic, leaving liquor manufacturers’ supplies locked up.

This month, the state Liquor Control Board imposed a two-bottle limit on those buying high-end brands like Patron tequila and Veuve Clicquot champagne. While most everyday consumers don’t buy those products in bulk, supply shortages had already led to hoarding among restaurants and bars, business owners told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Gaydos’ bill isn’t the first to deal with pandemic-inspired chaos in the alcohol industry. When early lockdowns forced restaurants and bars to serve takeout only, a temporary rule allowing to-go cocktails was a boon to businesses.

That policy eventually expired, however, and wasn’t replaced – the victim of partisan sniping in the Legislature.

Rep seeks to publish curricula

With unanimous support from its Republican members, a state House committee passed a bill this week that would require publicly funded schools to post their curricula and textbooks online.

While the brief bill doesn’t mention the education debates that have prompted angry parents to pack school board meetings, its prime sponsor – state Rep. Andre Lewis, R-Dauphin – once suggested it could help curb “anti-American socialism” in textbooks.

“By empowering parents with this information before the school year starts, we can ensure that curriculum and lesson plans being taught in our public schools are in line with the educational objectives and wishes of parents,” Lewis wrote when he proposed the bill.

Those voting for the bill Tuesday in the Education Committee included Rep. Joshua Kail, R-Washington, Rep. Jason Ortitay, R-Washington, Rep. Mike Puskaric, R-Washington, and Rep. Jesse Topper, Bedford. It passed the committee in a party-line vote.

While Lewis’ bill simply publicizes curricula and doesn’t restrict them, other proposals in Harrisburg have gone further – limiting or even banning some topics that cover race and history.

Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at rbrown@altoonamirror.com.

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