Politics
10:39 am
Mon August 1, 2011

Congress To Move Quickly On Debt, Spending Deal

House and Senate leaders prepared for possible votes Monday on the tentative deal to raise the government's debt ceiling and prevent a U.S. default.

Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said the votes could come as early as Monday evening, depending on the outcome of meetings with members. Cantor's office said the House would go first.

The agreement gained momentum in the Senate on Monday after months of partisan rancor.

Reid opened the day's session by declaring the deal shows that the often-dysfunctional Senate can come together when it counts. "People on the right are upset, people on the left are upset, people in the middle are upset," he said. "It was a compromise."

Vice President Joe Biden, who played an instrumental role in the weekend efforts to hammer out an accord, also was on Capitol Hill to sell the plan to Senate Democrats.

But while Senate passage seemed likely, if not wholly assured, the House was far from a lock. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will have to win over at least some of the tea party-backed conservatives who have so far adamantly resisted anything resembling compromise.

President Obama sent a video to Congress aimed at selling Democrats on the debt-ceiling agreement. "This has been a long and messy process," he said. "As with any compromise, the outcome is far from satisfying."

Tuesday is the deadline to avoid a U.S. default on payments to investors in Treasury bonds, recipients of Social Security pension checks, those relying on military veterans' benefits and businesses that do work for the government.

The deal, reached late Sunday night after a tense weekend of bargaining, would keep the country from defaulting on its loan obligations and possibly prevent a downgrade of its triple-A credit rating.

The legislation mixes a record increase in the government's borrowing cap with more than $2 trillion in spending cuts: $900 billion already locked in over the next decade and additional reductions of $1.5 trillion to be found by a bipartisan committee before the end of November.

If the panel fails to identify enough cuts or Congress fails to act the recommendations, across-the-board reductions would automatically take effect in January 2013. Boehner said entitlements such as Social Security, Medicaid and food stamps would be exempt from the automatic cuts but that Medicare would not.

The legislation also permits the nation's $14.3 trillion borrowing cap to rise by up to $2.4 trillion, enough to keep the government afloat through the 2012 elections. That's a key objective for Obama, whose poll numbers have sagged as the summertime crisis has dragged on.

The agreement "removes the cloud of uncertainty over our economy," senior White House adviser David Plouffe told NPR.

News of the deal boosted some international markets, which have been weighed down by concern over the future of the world's largest economy. But the relief was short-lived after a downbeat survey stoked fears that the U.S. may be sliding back into recession.

Asian indexes closed higher, but European markets shed early gains to end the session in negative territory. On Wall Street, where markets got hammered over the past week, the Dow Jones industrial average and the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index were down in early afternoon trading.

In Washington, no one seemed completely happy with Sunday's compromise.

"It isn't the greatest deal in the world, but it shows how much we've changed the terms of the debate in this town," Boehner said on a conference call, according to GOP officials.

In a written statement, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said only that she "[looked] forward to reviewing the legislation with my caucus to see what level of support we can provide." Despite the tepid response, Democratic officials said she was unlikely to do anything to try to scuttle the package.

Even the president admitted that the deal wasn't the one he would have preferred.

Still, Obama said it makes "a serious down payment on the deficit reduction we need and gives each party a strong incentive to get a balanced plan done before the end of the year."

Asked whether enough House Republicans would support the deal, Rep. David Dreier of California said: "I believe they will."

"This is a bipartisan agreement that has been struck," he told NPR. "We are in a position where we have to ensure that we are going to increase the debt ceiling, which by and large virtually everyone has said needs to be done."

But tea party favorite and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-MN) vowed to oppose the agreement, which she said "spends too much and doesn't cut enough."

Some progressive Democrats have also said they would vote no.

"This deal trades people's livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals, and I will not support it," said Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) told NPR that even though the agreement represents a compromise, "I am ecstatic about compromise."

"I was beginning to worry that Washington had forgotten that some of the brightest moments have been forged around compromises," she said.

With reporting from David Welna and Don Gonyea in Washington, D.C., and Frank Langfitt in Tokyo. Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.