After weeks of intense and heated debate, the debt ceiling bill sailed through the Senate with bipartisan support by a vote of 74-26. It passed the House on Monday by a vote of 269-161 and was quickly signed into law by President Obama soon after making his comments from the Rose Garden.
Of the 26 “no” votes, 19 came from Senate Republicans who wanted more spending cuts and a balanced budget commitment.
The measure gives the U.S. Treasury immediate authority to add an additional $400 billion to the national debt. The plan will cut just under $1 trillion in government spending over the next 10 years while raising the amount of money the U.S. is legally allowed to borrow in two phases.
It also creates a special 12 member joint House-Senate congressional committee, or “super committee,” that is tasked with coming up with $1.2 to $1.5 trillion in cuts by Thanksgiving before authority to add another $500 billion in debt is granted. The second debt increase is expected to take the nation past the 2012 elections before it will need to be raised again.
“It may have been messy. It might have appeared to some like their government wasn’t working,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell shortly before the vote was taken. “But, the fact, the opposite was true. The push and pull Americans saw in Washington these past few weeks was not gridlock … It was the will of the people working itself out in a political process that was never meant to be pretty … It was a debate that Washington needed to have.”
Speaker John Boehner in a June interview on Fox News said, “There are no votes in the Congress … to raise taxes on anyone, so tax increases are off the table.” Boehner’s prediction was accurate but he had to contend with a rambunctious and conservative Republican caucus who demanded deeper cuts than were included in the final version.
President Obama addressed the nation from the White House Rose Garden soon after the vote and again made “tax breaks for millionaires, corporate jet owners and oil and gas companies” his subject matter in an attempt to deflect liberal objections that the deal contained no new revenues from tax hikes. Though Obama’s position to include tax hikes in the deal was soundly defeated in Congress, he nonetheless asserted in a signing statement:
“And since you can’t close the deficit with just spending cuts, we’ll need a balanced approach where everything is on the table. Yes, that means making some adjustments to protect health care programs like Medicare so they’re there for future generations. It also means reforming out tax code so that the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations pay their fair share. And it means getting rid of taxpayer subsidies to oil and gas companies, and tax loopholes that help billionaires pay a lower tax rate than teachers and nurses.”
Republicans, especially Tea Party members, also lamented what they didn’t get, which was more spending cuts. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the third ranking Republican in the Senate, addressed the mood of the country with a reference to traveling from one city to another.
“This problem wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight,” Alexander said from the floor. “But if I was sitting at Union Station trying to catch a train to New York City and someone offered me a ticket to Baltimore or Philadelphia, I’d take it, and then find a way to get to New York from there.”
Congress now heads home for the August recess and will undoubtedly be making the rounds at civic club luncheons and county fairs defending their vote and explaining to voters how events will play out in 2012.