WASHINGTON -- With the United States government set to begin defaulting on its loans on Aug. 2, lawmakers are working to cut a deal to shrink the deficit by making major spending cuts and, possibly, raising revenues.
The Treasury hit its debt limit -- set by Congress at $14.29 trillion -- on May 16, but is using "extraordinary measures" to avoid default until early August. Although Congress could vote to raise the debt ceiling without preconditions, many lawmakers have said they will not approve an increase to the debt limit unless there is a plan to deal with the deficit over the long term.
In addition to major spending cuts, the House GOP also has pushed for major changes to Medicare, including those laid out in Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wisc.) 2012 budget proposal, to be as part of a final debt ceiling deal. Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in June that Medicare cuts are off the table, Democrats signaled they would allow for some changes to the insurance program provided they be on the delivery-side as opposed to the beneficiary side.
House Speaker John Boehner has said House will not approve a bill that includes tax increases, a component that Democrats have insisted should be on the table, whether it be individual rate increases or other revenue raisers.
On June 23, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, who were representing Republicans in debt deal negotiations with Vice President Joe Biden, pulled out of the bipartisan talks, leaving them, ostensibly, to the president and Boehner.
Check back here for the latest developments.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) praised Democratic lawmakers for bringing the country "back from the brink of default" and said now is the time to shift attention to jobs.
"We just completed a very lively leadership meeting of the House Democrats, where we talked about ... the necessity of Democrats to save the day yesterday, pulling our country back from the brink of default," Pelosi said during a Tuesday press conference.
"It was a bitter pill for us to swallow, but we did," Pelosi said of the final debt deal. "And as we did, we saved Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security."
With that bridge crossed, the next step is refocusing Congress on job creation, she said.
"Jobs, jobs, job, jobs, jobs. You cannot say it enough," Pelosi said. "I really liked what Willie Nelson said, or at least he was quoted as saying -- the American people are more concerned about a ceiling over their head than raising the debt ceiling. We know we need to do both."
The Minority Leader ducked questions about when she would announce her picks for the newly created "Super Congress," a 12-member panel of lawmakers who will decide where to make up to .5 trillion in spending cuts. Pelosi also wouldn't say if she will require her picks to insist on new revenues in addition to cuts. The goal, she said, is to strike a balance in cuts and spending while preserving entitlement benefits.
"Whoever is at that table will be someone who will fight to protect those benefits," she said.
-- Jennifer Bendery
AARP is relieved that the debt deal did not hack into Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, but the lobby for older Americans is worried all those programs could get whacked by a secretive super committee that's supposed to find an extra .5 trillion in deficit cutting.
The super committee -- made up of 12 lawmakers who will bypass the normal legislative process and produce a bill that cannot be amended -- will have to work quickly, coming up with a massive cutting plan by Thanksgiving.
"We are concerned that a fast-track committee process will deny Americans a voice in the discussion about critical tax, health and retirement issues," said AARP President Barry Rand in a statement.
“AARP believes that the American public deserves a seat at the table in any forum, including the newly created super committee, that discusses potential changes to these critical programs," Rand added. "We believe that our nation’s leaders should work together to strengthen health and retirement security for current and future generations.”
-- Michael McAuliff
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), one of the only Democratic leaders to vote against the debt bill, lamented on Tuesday that the new law includes the creation of an all-powerful "Super Congress" of 12 hand-picked lawmakers who can decide where to make up to .5 trillion in future spending cuts.
"I think you've asked a very important question," DeLauro said, when asked why lawmakers created a special committee to do what should be Congress' job. "My preference obviously would be to have Congress take on these responsibilities. But clearly there's a view that there's an impasse and therefore, hopefully, a commission can do that."
DeLauro, a co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, split from other Democratic leaders in voting against the debt bill, which increases the government's spending power by .4 trillion through 2013 while imposing as much as .5 trillion in cuts, mostly from non-defense spending. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) all voted for the bill.
"For me, voting against the bill yesterday was about, given what is in this piece of legislation, it makes these opportunities for economic investments and economic growth all the more difficult," DeLauro said. "If we choke off all of our opportunities for investment, we will take this nation backwards instead of forward."
-- Jennifer Bendery
|@ CNNPolitics : WH says President Obama has now signed the debt ceiling bill into law|
Senior citizens lobbying force AARP is happy that Social Security checks will not be interrupted by a debt ceiling standoff and that future benefits won't get automatically clobbered if the 12-member so-called super Congress fails to reach an agreement on deficit reduction.
"We are relieved that Congress has acted on a bipartisan agreement to address the debt ceiling and prevent default to ensure that seniors will continue to receive their Social Security checks and have access to health care," AARP CEO A. Barry Rand said in a statement. "Going forward, we are pleased that Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare benefits are protected if the so-called 'super committee' fails to reach an agreement later this fall, but we will remain vigilant in our efforts to protect the health and retirement security of seniors and future retirees. We are concerned that a fast-track committee process will deny Americans a voice in the discussion about critical tax, health and retirement issues. We also are concerned about the potential use of a trigger that would arbitrarily cut provider payments under Medicare, which could unfairly shift costs to seniors."
-- Arthur Delaney
Speaking just minutes after the Senate passed legislation to raise the debt ceiling -- removing the last political hurdle for that bill's passage – President Obama delivered a speech in the Rose Garden in which he once again pleaded for a renewed focus on jobs.
Sounding at times exasperated that the political conversation had veered so swiftly to the topic of austerity, Obama urged Congress to present him with job-creating bills as soon as it returned from its August recess. The specifics were pretty much the same as the White House has pushed for weeks if not months: free trade agreements, patent reform, an infrastructure bank, regulatory changes and the extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits.
"Growing the economy isn’t just about cutting spending, it is not about rolling back regulations that protect our air and water and keep people safe. That is not how we are going to get past this recession. We are going to have to do more than that," he said.
"There already is a quiet crisis going on in the lives of a lot of families and a lot communities all across the country. They are looking for work and they have been for a while ... that ought to compel Washington to cooperate, that ought to compel Washington to compromise and that ought to compel Washington to act."
Coming so soon after both the president and a large portion of the Democratic party signed off on a bill that takes roughly .4 trillion out of the economy in the next 10 years, it was hard to imagine that the remedies being offered would have much of a cumulative effect. Moreover, a "pivot" to jobs was already tried unsuccessfully after the tax cut debate at the end of 2010 and the government shut down debate in the spring of 2011.
But Obama's speech was more about establishing the proper tone than it was about forging out new legislative remedies. With the debt ceiling debate now over until after the 2012 election, the major discussion shifts back to what, if anything, government can do to spur economic growth. One portion of that argument will come when Congress must pass a budget to fund the government by the end of September. But the White House will likely try and create some sort of defining contrast between the president and his Republican critics well before then.
-- Sam Stein
HuffPost's Michael McAuliff and Elise Foley report on the Senate vote:
The Senate did its part Tuesday to end a months-long standoff and raise the debt ceiling, passing a bill that dramatically cuts spending and creates a new "super committee" that will slash budgets even more.
The Senate approved the measure 74 to 26. The bill will go to President Obama's desk with little time to spare; Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said that the country would begin to default on its obligations at midnight if a bill was not passed by then.
Although Democrats had many complaints about the bill, they supported it overwhelmingly, with 45 voting "yes" and six voting "no." Twenty-eight Republicans voted in favor of the bill, meanwhile, while 19 voted against it. The Senate's two Independents, Sens. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.) voted "yes" and "no," respectively.
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"Neither side got what they wanted. ... That's the way our system works. That's what compromise is all about."
The final vote is 74-26, more than the 60-vote majority required for passage.
HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal reports:
An overnight poll conducted by CNN and ORC International finds more Americans disapprove (52 percent) than approve (44 percent) of what the pollsters described as "an agreement between Barack Obama and the Republicans and Democrats in Congress [that] would raise the federal government's debt ceiling through the year 2013 and make major cuts in government spending over the next few years."
The poll delved deeper into specific aspects of the agreement and found support for spending cuts but opposition to the lack of tax increases for wealthy Americans. Specifically,
- 65 percent approve of trillion in cuts in government spending over the next 10 years (30 percent opposed)
- 60 percent disapprove of the fact that the agreement does not include any tax increases for businesses or higher-income Americans
The survey also included an unusual question that dramatizes the way Americans feel about the overall debate. More than three out of four respondents said elected officials in Washington that have dealt with the debt ceiling debate have behaved "mostly like spoiled children" (77 percent) rather than "responsible adults" (17 percent).
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Hours before he is set to sign legislation to raise the nation's debt ceiling, President Obama met with the AFL-CIO's Executive Council whose members are more than a bit worried and upset about the direction of the bill.
Union officials had stayed largely silent in the day or so since the final debt ceiling deal was reached. The ones who did speak out were either already out of office or saved their blistering remarks for near, or after, Monday night's House vote.
The AFL-CIO, which is the largest union federation in the country, has not yet formally commented at all -– in part because Obama's appearance was on the schedule for Tuesday morning. And in a statement put out after that meeting, a federation spokesman was short on specifics and decidedly forward-looking.
"This morning's meeting with the General Board of the AFL-CIO was a conversation about the urgent need to focus on job-creating policies that will propel working people and our economy forward," said Alison Omens, an AFL-CIO spokesperson. "AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and other union leaders talked with President Obama about working together for solutions that will put people back to work. Working people are desperate to hear how we're going to focus on the real economy and the jobs crisis and President Obama conveyed his own feeling of urgency around dealing with the jobs crisis."
-- Sam Stein
The Senate vote is scheduled for 12:00 noon. The president is expected to speak at 12:15. We'll have live video at the top of the blog.
A spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that he would be willing to appoint senators to the soon-to-be-created deficit-reduction super committee even if they vote against raising the nation's debt ceiling.
"He will have serious discussions with ALL those who are interested in serving prior to making any appointments," emailed McConnell spokesperson Don Stewart. "No one is stronger in his opposition to tax hikes than Sen. McConnell. He will have serious discussions with all those who are interested in serving prior to making any appointments."
Stewart's comment came in response to a Weekly Standard report that McConnell would hold members' votes against them when it came time to choose his three committee members (each chamber gets six members, to be divided equally among the parties). Such a policy would, seemingly, rule out some of the more fiscally conservative voices in the party who have refused to vote to raise the debt ceiling, either out of belief that the corresponding cuts didn't go far enough, or conviction that the United States wouldn't risk default.
In actuality, however, those lawmakers likely won't be in consideration for the super-committee as they are either younger members -- Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) -- or individuals whose legislative purviews don't necessarily include budget matters -- Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) or (R-S.C.).
-- Sam Stein
HuffPost's Sam Stein, Elise Foley, and Jennifer Bendery report on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' (D-Ariz.) emotional return to Congress Monday night. Read the complete report, see photos and watch video of Giffords on the House floor here.
Giffords entered the chamber to sustained, standing applause, shaking hands with colleagues whom she had not seen since that January day. Her vote, a sideshow to the far more important and compelling personal drama, was in favor of the bill, which passed through the chamber by a margin of 269 to 161.
“I have closely followed the debate over our debt ceiling and have been deeply disappointed at what’s going on in Washington,” Giffords said, in a statement from her office. “After weeks of failed debate in Washington, I was pleased to see a solution to this crisis emerge. I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics. I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy.”
Giffords' office tweeted word of her return to Washington after the vote had begun. And as she showed up on the floor -- smiling and with her hair cut short -- the attention of lawmakers drifted from the vote tally to her presence. Her office, in a statement, noted that in December 2009 and again in February 2010, she had objected to raising the nation's debt limit. This vote, the statement added, "was substantially different, with the strength of the U.S. economy hanging in the balance."
After the vote was cast, Giffords received multiple additional rounds of applause, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called her "the personification of courage."
"Her presence here in the chamber as well as her service throughout her career in Congress, brings honor to this chamber," Pelosi said. "Thank you, Gabby."
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) came out swinging on Monday night after it was reported that Vice President Joe Biden suggested that Tea Party-backed lawmakers "acted like terrorists" in contentious debate over raising the nation's debt limit.
According to Politico, Biden made the comments in question during his meeting with House Democrats on Monday.
Bachmann, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, wrote in a campaign fundraising email to supporters on Monday night:
The Democrats have stooped to a new low. This afternoon, Vice President Joe Biden reportedly led a congressional meeting where Tea Party members were labeled as "terrorists."
Only in the bizarro world of Washington is fiscal responsibility sometimes defined as terrorism.
Our belief that America should live within its means and not spend more than it takes in distinguishes us as patriots who love our country, not to be equated with the terrorists whose sole aim is to destroy it.
The subject line of Bachmann's message: "Tell Biden: We are not terrorists."
More than 90 Democrats in the House voted for the debt limit bill, but those who did not found the measure galling.
New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, who thought President Obama should have taken matters into his own hands, fired off an especially blistering statement:
“Defaulting on our debts is not an option. That’s why I voted for a clean debt ceiling increase, free from the unnecessary clutter of budgetary or other non-related matters. And that’s why I voted for Senator Reid’s plan this past Saturday, though parts of that plan were excessive and imbalanced. I am also the lead sponsor on a resolution to support the president’s use of Article 2, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to raise the debt ceiling – solely as a last resort. But this so-called compromise – “the Budget Control Act” – is just the latest blackmail request from extortionist Republicans.
“This legislation lays out an unbalanced, callous plan that will strangle the middle class and working poor, to say nothing of the elderly and kids. These blackmailers are telling the American people, ‘either you will accept deep cuts to vital programs that support seniors, students, children, women, and the poor, or we will force this nation to default on its debts’ – an unprecedented and reckless move that would lead to skyrocketing interest rates on mortgages, credit cards, student loans, and the like. So, either we stifle our economy and stymie job growth, or we kill the middle class and stymie job growth.
“Shockingly, while Republicans are holding us all hostage, telling us our country is broke and we have to cut programs that are lifelines to millions of Americans, they are letting the wealthiest among us – the corporations, millionaires, billionaires, and oil companies – off scot-free, without doing their fair share.“This proposal is exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. With our economy still struggling and gasping for air, with more and more Americans looking for jobs, we should be promoting job growth and those federal and state programs that put people to work. But, instead of doing the things Americans do best – that is, building things and creating opportunity – Tea Partiers want to send this country over the cliff. We must say NO.”
-- Mike McAuliff
Vote is 269 to 161.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who has been away from Washington recovering from a gun wound after she was attacked in January, returned to Congress on Monday to vote in approval of the debt limit increase.
"Gabrielle has returned to Washington to support a bipartisan bill to prevent economic crisis," her office tweeted.
-- Elise Foley
HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:
Way back when this whole saga started, the GOP's gambit was, "Give us what we want or we will put the full faith and credit of U.S. Treasury bonds into default." It shouldn't have been necessary to point out to the press that this was an utterly insane, from-the-furthest-reaches-of-Mars position to take. After all, the debt ceiling had been raised many, many times before, without any fuss worth mentioning. If you cannot say objectively that threatening to blow up the world's economy was an extreme position, then the word "objectivity" is meaningless.
But far from taking an immediate stand against the insanity, the press treated the threatened demise of global society as just another interesting point of view among many. It was an exciting tactic, sure to cause waves in the political waters of the Imperial City. Pop some popcorn and let's see where this takes us! Well, where it's taken us is "past the brink." Our political culture has been permanently altered. It has now been deemed an acceptable tactic, in politics, to take hostages and make demands.
Click here to read more.
HuffPost's Lila Shapiro reports:
For American workers -- both those employed and those looking for work -- the deal reached over the weekend to stave off an American default could spell disaster, labor economists say.
The deal struck between Obama and congressional leaders, announced Sunday night, may have averted a historic U.S. default, but the 7 billion dollars in cuts planned for the next decade could worsen an already stagnant labor market.
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HuffPost's Will Alden reports:
The deficit-reduction deal that emerged late Sunday runs the risk of exacerbating two opposite problems at the same time: It cuts enough government spending to imperil a weak economy, yet not enough to spare the United States from the prospect that its credit rating will be downgraded.
The plan would cut .4 trillion in federal government spending over the next decade, an initiative that economists say could harm the economic recovery as growth remains painfully slow. With home prices falling, the unemployment rate rising and gross domestic product expanding at a rate that's worryingly close to zero, federal spending cuts or tax increases could hinder what little progress is being made, experts say.
But seen another way, the deficit-reduction plan might not be big enough: It falls short of the criteria that the credit rating agency Standard & Poor's alluded to last week. Fears that the U.S. government's debt might be downgraded have not been allayed, with some experts saying a downgrade could come this week.
Click here to read more.
HuffPost's Sam Stein reports:
The debt ceiling bill set to be voted upon Monday evening has left labor advocates in yet another precarious -- and deeply frustrated -- position. A president who began his term with the promise to not only stem the tide of job loss but also reconfigure the wealth disparity in the country has been bitten by the austerity bug. Moreover, there seem to be fewer and fewer legislative or political outlets for unions to explore.
In the immediate aftermath of the announcement Sunday evening that a deal had been struck, the nation's major labor unions bit their tongues, choosing to either carefully craft press statements or remain silent altogether. In private, however, the discontent was palpable. And it wasn't just driven by fear that massive spending cuts –- billion in 2012 and .4 trillion over ten years –- would adversely affect workers or the unemployed. It was a touch more personal than that.
"We have now had at least three or more experiences of the president explaining to people that he has a plan and it is under control but the results don't match," said Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union. "He has an unreasonable Congress that doesn't respond to reason. So why continue to reason with them?"
Click here to read more.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is pushing his Republican colleagues to vote in favor of the debt deal, even though he says he's worried about what could happen if the super committee it calls for fails to make more cuts and the "trigger" kicks in to cut the defense budget.
"I think we've achieved a significant success," McCain told reporters. "There's no tax increases, we kept the government from being shut down, we do have a plan long term."
Though the prospect of the trigger kicking in does worry him, McCain said he'd fight to save defense spending if necessary. He also said that he did not expect the trigger to be pulled.
"I believe that 12 members of Congress will achieve a result," he said, arguing that for them to do otherwise would would be to "abrogate" their responsibility.
While McCain's fellow Republicans seem inclined to accept potential defense cuts as their incentive to come up with a budget-cutting plan, they refused to accept any sort of tax hikes.
-- Michael McAuliff
HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports on media coverage of the debt ceiling debate:
As noted here earlier, the debt deal that's in the offing is said to be a Great and Virtuous Thing not because it results in any tangible benefit for ordinary Americans (other than the fact that, as Wall Street was promised months ago, there will be no default and thus no subsequent destruction of the global economy), but rather because everyone on Capitol Hill hates it, at least a little bit. Glibly put, the best compromise is one that leaves everyone unhappy. Which is all well and good when the grand compromise doesn't also usher in a new era of governance that features permanent hostage-taking dysfunction.
HuffPost's Hunter Stuart has created a two-minute video mashup of debt ceiling media coverage that shows how this has become the dominant narrative.
In his meeting with the Democratic caucus on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden reportedly told the assembled House members that Tea Party Republicans "have acted like terrorists."
According to Politico:
Biden was agreeing with a line of argument made by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) at a two-hour, closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting.
“We have negotiated with terrorists,” an angry Doyle said, according to sources in the room. “This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money.”
Biden, driven by his Democratic allies’ misgivings about the debt-limit deal, responded: “They have acted like terrorists,” according to several sources in the room.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said Monday that Vice President Joe Biden told the House Democratic Caucus that President Barack Obama was, in fact, prepared to use the Constitution to raise the debt limit.
"We heard in there that the president, if this all had failed, was willing to invoke the 14th Amendment," DeFazio said after the meeting ended.
The news runs counter to what the White House, and even Obama himself, had said for weeks: that option has been off the table because it is unclear whether the president has the legal authority to invoke the 14th amendment to raise the debt ceiling himself.
DeFazio maintained that the 14th Amendment is "the best option now" for raising the debt ceiling. He blasted the debt deal negotiated between the White House and congressional leaders because, he said, it includes no revenues and caters to the Tea Party.
"What's the package about? It's all about cutting, cutting, cutting!" he shouted at reporters. "Tax cuts and reductions in spending are not going to create jobs in this country. We need some investment."
The bottom line, Defazio added, is that Obama should "invoke the 14th Amendment. Don't go forward with this package."
-- Jennifer Bendery
|@ jonkarl : @NancyPelosi tells @DianeSawyer it probably is a satan sandwich "with satan fries on the side" but she's still a "absolutely" a yes.|
|@ mitchellreports : 74 member Progressive Caucus Rep Keith Ellison now saying they will vote no. "preventing the worst from happening is not enough"|