Published July 31, 2011
President Obama announced Sunday night that leaders of both parties in both chambers have reached an agreement on a debt-reduction deal that will "lift the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over our economy" and prevent the nation from potentially defaulting on the nation's financial obligations.
According to the president, the deal means an immediate cut of $1 trillion in government spending over a 10-year period accompanied by a $900 billion increase in the debt ceiling. That will be followed by the creation of a committee to come up with additional cuts worth at least $1.5 trillion to be voted on by the end of the year. The debt ceiling will be raised by $1.5 trillion if the committee recommendations are approved.
Each of the GOP and Democratic leaders in the chamber will nominate lawmakers to the 12-member committee to report back in the fall. Tax hikes are not part of the package and a pledge for a Balanced Budget Amendment vote is.
Obama said everything will be on the table and both parties will find some of the cuts objectionable.
"Despite what some Republicans have argued, I believe that we have to ask the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay their fair share by giving up tax breaks and special deductions. Despite what some in my own party have argued, I believe that we need to make some modest adjustments to programs like Medicare to ensure that they're still around for future generations. That's why the second part of this agreement is so important," Obama said from the White House briefing room.
The Senate adjourned Sunday night without a vote on a deal, but Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said that the parties are going to have to give ground and compromise so the country doesn't default.
"I am relieved to say that leaders from both parties have come together for the sake of our economy to reach a historic, bipartisan compromise that ends this dangerous standoff. The compromise we have agreed to is remarkable not only because of what it does, but because of what it prevents: a first-ever default on the full faith and credit of the United States," Reid said.
Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will both present the agreement to their caucuses on Monday morning. House Democrats also set a morning meeting to discuss the details.
McConnell, R-Ky., said that the framework calls for a "review that will insure significant cuts in Washington spending."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said after the president's speech that she'll see what kind of support her caucus can provide.
Several objections are expected, including from Republican defense hawks who don't want the military gutted and from the Congressional Black Caucus, which called the deal a "sugar-coated Satan sandwich."
House Speaker John Boehner told his Republican caucus on a Sunday night conference call that the deal isn't done yet. But Boehner said it does not violate GOP principles.
"We got 98 percent of what we wanted," he said adding that the framework cuts more spending than it raises the debt limit. It also caps future spending to limits in the growth of government.
"It would also guarantee the American people the vote they have been denied in both chambers on a balanced budget amendment, while creating, I think, some new incentives for past opponents of a BBA to support it," Boehner said.
The 12-member committee, composed of six Republicans and six Democrats, three from each party and each chamber, will report the legislation by Nov. 23. The vote, to take place by Dec. 23, would be an up-or-down vote with no amendments allowed.
According to a Power Point presentation presented by Boehner to the caucus, if the committee's recommendations are not approved by the end of the year, a "trigger" in the proposal would automatically enact across-the-board cuts -- with roughly half of the cuts coming from defense and half from Medicare.
The trigger would be enacted for across-the-board cuts if the joint committee doesn't reach at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. If that happens, Obama would be allowed to request a $1.2 trillion debt increase and Congress would have to disapprove it subject to a presidential veto.
House Republicans spent nearly an hour on the conference call with Boehner. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee said that the plan starts from a better baseline than the proposal presented by Boehner last week.
But one House GOP lawmaker who told Fox News he intends to vote against the plan emerged from the call saying he doubted it was 98 percent in the GOP's favor.
"The minority leader's on board," said the lawmaker who requested anonymity in order to speak freely. "Really? Nancy's cool with only 2 percent? She's that stupid?"
The lawmaker added that Obama's health care law was protected while "the military got screwed," saying the across-the-board trigger between defense and Medicare left Medicaid off the table. The theory was advanced that the health care law will be achieved by pushing greater numbers of recipients of government health care benefits onto Medicaid.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a fierce critic of the entire process, did not outright oppose the legislation but also expressed his disappointment in the chain of events that led to the 11th-hour deal. He said he had wanted seven days to review the bill.
"Republicans offered budgets and bills with trillions more in spending cuts than contained in the current legislation. They lowered their proposal substantially so Democrats would end their blockade. That took courage. But the one fact every American must know is that the level of cuts in this proposal are only a first step. Far more work and much greater reductions in spending are required to balance the budget," said Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also faulted the 11th hour negotiating but said, "We have settled on a reasonable compromise that all sides should immediately support and which I intend to vote for."
With Aug. 2 put forth as the drop-dead date for a deal or a potential default of the nation's loans by the Treasury Department, the Senate could begin voting on the legislation early Monday. The House has already approved rules that allow same-day voting on the measure.