Path Ahead For Debt Legislation Remains Uncertain
After weeks of mounting anxiety and collapsed deals, Congressional leaders and President Obama reached an agreement Sunday night to end the debt ceiling crisis. Those leaders will attempt to sell that deal to fellow lawmakers Monday, and if all goes well, a bill increasing the debt ceiling by nearly a trillion dollars could await the president's signature Tuesday.
That's the day the Treasury Department had said the nation's first-ever default could occur if Congress failed to act.
As the Senate went into an emergency Sunday session at noon, chaplain Barry Black expressed the growing sense of doom that marked the debt ceiling crisis: "Save us, oh God, for the waters are coming in upon us," he said.
Eight-and-a-half hours later, Obama strode into the White House briefing room to figuratively throw a life raft to the imperiled U.S. economy.
"There are still some very important votes to be taken by members of Congress, but I want to announce that the leaders of both parties in both chambers have reached an agreement that will reduce the deficit and avoid default," he said.
Moments earlier, Majority Leader Harry Reid had announced the deal on the Senate floor.
"Democrats and Republicans have rarely needed to come together more than today," Reid said. "I know this agreement won't make every republican happy. It certainly won't make every Democrat happy, either. But both parties gave more ground than they wanted to. And neither side got as much as it had hoped."
But Reid himself appeared happy — getting a deal was a key test of his leadership, and it was also a crucial boost to his fellow Democrat in the White House who faces a re-election bid next year. Republican leader Mitch McConnell seemed happy as well — he and House Speaker John Boehner, after all, got their Democratic counterparts to agree to nearly a trillion dollars in spending cuts.
"I think I can say with a high degree of confidence that there is now a framework to review that will ensure significant cuts in Washington spending," McConnell said. "And we can assure the American people tonight that the United States of America will not for the first time in our history default on its obligations."
Earlier, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters she and her fellow Democrats were not entirely sold on the deal.
"We will all have to take a look at it, and we all may not be able to support it, or none of us may be able to support it," she said.
Pelosi may not have wanted to drive House Republicans away from the debt ceiling deal by appearing too enthusiastic about it. But fellow House Democrat Emanuel Cleaver, who is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, was openly hostile to that deal. On MSNBC, he called it a sugarcoated "Satan sandwich."
"I'm concerned about this because we don't know the details, and until we see the details, we're going to be extremely noncommitted," he said. "But on the surface, it looks like a Satan sandwich."
Senate Democrats also bemoaned the deal's initial deficit reduction being made up entirely of spending cuts, despite a frail economy and high unemployment.
"We are being told we have to cut back on government spending, and by cutting back on spending, we may also have a negative impact on our economy," said Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat. "I'm afraid this dilemma is not going to serve our purposes very well. I'm not sure this is clear thinking."
Republicans are concerned about nearly half the spending cuts in the deal coming from defense. And Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain noted that even more defense spending could be cut should Congress fail to enact later this year additional deficit reductions to be recommended by a joint bipartisan committee.
"Of course those of us who are concerned about national security would be concerned about a defense cuts trigger, but remember, it would only be a trigger," McCain said.
Obama acknowledged the uncertain path that lies ahead for the deal on Capitol Hill.
"We're not done yet," he said Sunday night. "I want to urge members of both parties to do the right thing and support this deal with your votes over the next few days."
Congressional support for the deal could be tested as soon as Monday, when the Senate is expected to take it up. Unless it gets blocked by a filibuster, the deal raising the debt ceiling could go on to the House by Tuesday.