Tuesday, Aug. 3, 5:50 p.m.
President Obama signed into law the debt-ceiling bill – formally called the Budget Control Act – shortly after his speech. later in the day he took the next step with a message to the U.S. Congress. With less than seven hours left before the nation faced taking drastic measures to avoid a default, the president certified the need for additional borrowing to the federal debt. In a memo to Congress, he wrote:
Pursuant to section 3101A(a)(1)(A) of title 31, United States Code, I hereby certify that the debt subject to limit is within $100,000,000,000 of the limit in 31 U.S.C. 3101(b) and that further borrowing is required to meet existing commitments.
The law will raise the debt ceiling by $917 billion, which holds over the country through the end of the year. In early 2012, it will be extended again (although subject to a nonbinding Republican vote, in which they get to express their disapproval of the president’s handling of the debt). Crisis averted.
Tuesday, Aug. 3, 1:35 p.m.
The tone for Obama's we-avoided-default speech was sober, as he declared that the newly-passed compromise bill is just a first step. When it comes time for the second phase of action, to be decided by a new joint congressional committee, he said the debate will, again, be about a balanced approach with both spending cuts and closed tax loopholes to ensure that the wealthiest Americans pay their share.
"Everyone's going to have chip in. It's only fair," he said. "That's the principle I'll be fighting for during the next phase of this process."
Also in the coming months, Obama vowed to double down on jobs. "While Washington has been absorbed in this debate about deficits," he said, "People across the country are asking what can we do to help their father looking for work? What are we going to do for the single mom who's seen her hours cut back at the hospital? What are we going to do to make it easier for businesses to put up that ‘Now Hiring' sign?"
With that, he again called on Congress to move forward on legislation for building America's roads and bridges, advancing new trade agreements in Asia and South America, and extending tax cuts for middle class families.
"We've seen in the past few days that Washington has the ability to focus when there's a timer ticking down, and when there's a looming disaster," he said, adding that it shouldn't take a crisis for people to do their jobs. "Because there's already a quiet crisis going on in the lives of many families and businesses all across the country. … That ought to be enough to get all of us in this town to do the jobs we were sent here to do."
Tuesday, Aug. 2, 12:33 p.m.
The threat of default is over. Tuesday afternoon, the Senate voted to pass the last-minute debt-ceiling deal.
The bill will move swiftly to President Obama's desk for his signature — but not before he gives a speech about it first. The president's numerous public statements over the past few weeks have ranged from rational to irritated to confrontational to hopeful. Given that the final deal admittedly isn't what he really wanted, and the White House's "We tried our best, and this is the best we could do" angle, Obama's final thoughts probably won't be quite celebratory. But with the possibility off the table of the country failing, for the first time in its history, to pay its credit obligations, he is no doubt relieved.
Tuesday, Aug. 2, 11:10 a.m.
After the debt-ceiling deal passed the House on Monday, Congressional Black Caucus chairman Emanuel Cleaver released a terse statement on the CBC position: "The bill that was put before the Congress, by making no pretense at balance, harms our community. Many CBC members therefore felt compelled to vote no on the bill."
One CBC member who voted yes, however, was Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn. On Tuesday morning, he held a conference call explaining why.
"No Congress can bind a future Congress," Clyburn said, before detailing some of the provisions he likes that would go into effect this year.
For example, in fiscal years 2012 (which starts October 11 of this year) and 2013, there is a "firewall" between security and nonsecurity spending, ensuring that proportional spending reductions are taken from each category. Clyburn detailed that the bill also provides an increase of $44 billion to 2012 nonsecurity accounts — for things like infrastructure, education, low-income programs such as TANF and SNAP (food stamps) — which is $24 billion more than the government is operating with now.
But what about Clyburn's emphasis on that "No Congress can bind a future Congress" thing? Since today's Congress can't tell a future one what to do, if Democrats regain the House in 2012, it's possible that they'd change parts they don't like. It's a far-away prospect, and hardly assured, but one that he and other Democrats have their eye on.
"After the elections are held in November 2012, if a new Congress comes in the following January and says we want to change that deal, they can change it. If [Democrats] win the election in November, we may want to keep the deal or make it better," he said, adding that it could also go the other way. "If we lose the election in November, [Republicans] may want to keep it or make it worse."
As for the short-term benefits of the bill, Clyburn said that he hopes it will help put jobs back on the map. "I hope that when we get back after the August break, the president will then be in a strong position to pivot to his jobs program that he's talked about over and over again," he said. "I'm expecting, when I get back, a September surprise. I don't want to wait for October."
Monday, Aug. 1, 7:30 p.m.
With a 269-161 margin, the House voted to raise the federal debt ceiling. Next it moves to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass.
The bill passed after an uncertain day, in which a faction of Republicans rejected it for not going far enough, and many Democrats opposed it for being all spending cuts and no revenue increases. But ultimately, even if they didn't agree with it, lawmakers on both side of the aisle (half of Democrats, and a wide majority of Republicans) voted in favor for the measure in order to avoid the nerve-wracking threat of default.
As frustrating and cynical as the process has been over the past few months, the lesser-of-two-evils vote ended on a surprisingly heartwarming note: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot in the head in January, made her first appearance back to the House chamber to register her support for the debt-ceiling bill. The smiling and waving congresswoman was welcomed with a hearty standing ovation from her colleagues.
Immediately following the vote, several members of Congress released statements explaining their decisions.
Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), who voted in favor of the measure, offered: "No one likes everything in this bill, but the country needed to raise the debt limit…that's why I voted for it. It avoids default, maintains the AAA credit rating, and makes responsible spending cuts to both domestic programs and the defense department. The deal also creates a firewall that protects Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits, which is absolutely necessary. I would have much preferred a larger package of spending cuts, new revenues and real tax fairness. The process of getting to this point with the legislation was messy, but I think it was necessary as a first-step."
On the other side of the issue was Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), who put in a "Nay" vote: "I am here to represent my constituents in the 7th District, most of whom say we need a balanced approach. They understand the need to sacrifice, provided that sacrifice is shared and it results in job creation. But under this approach, oil companies earning billions and companies exporting American jobs sacrifice nothing. Millionaires, whose low tax rates have not led to job creation, sacrifice nothing."
What do you think? In the end, did Congress make the right call in agreeing to this deal in order to avoid default?
Monday, Aug. 1, 5:00 p.m.
A growing body of Republicans today are supporting President Obama on the debt-ceiling deal. Progressive Democrats are not.
Six House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, held a triumphant press conference expressing their approval of the bill. Though it falls short of the full discretionary spending cuts they wanted, and lacked a Constitutional amendment to balance the budget, their take was that it's a step in the right direction.
"It's not a perfect bill, but changing the way that Washington spends taxpayer dollars is often like redirecting an aircraft carrier — it's a monumental task," said Cantor. "From Day One, this administration has been insisting that we raise taxes in order to solve this problem. The big win for us, and for the American people, is that there are no tax hikes in this package."
Minutes later, six members of the Progressive Congressional Caucus, led by chairman Keith Ellison, held a considerably peeved presser denouncing the bill as "some of the worst public policy in the history of this institution." Have advocated all along for a clean vote to raise the debt ceiling, a routine vote, their take on the deal is that it disappointingly piles the burden on the middle class, while asking nothing of millionaires and billionaires.
Rep. Maxine Waters added the bill does nothing to address jobs. "We have a 9.2 percent unemployment rate in this country, and in the minority community it's 17 percent-plus," she said, further pointing out the 50 percent loss in household wealth for African Americans since 2005. "We need to be talking about stimulating the economy. Instead, we're about to take federal money out of this economy. There will be a loss of jobs with these cuts, and that is no way to deal with this predicament that we're in, in this weakened economy."
Congressman Keith Ellison concluded that, even though most of the Progressive Caucus will vote "No," they back the president taking a different route — the unlikely 14th Amendment option. "We do support the president using his Constitutional, executive authority to protect the full faith and credit of the United States," he said, still pushing. "He has our full support on that."
The final House vote is expected around 7:00 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 1, 3:05 p.m.
In the face of heavy pushback from liberal groups against the tentative debt-ceiling deal, the White House is trying to get folks to focus on the positive. In a conference call this afternoon, Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Principal Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Jason Furman tried to emphasize what's in it for progressives to possibly like. Here's what they came up with:
1. We avoided a default! Jarrett began by giving the government credit simply for raising the debt ceiling … even though it's, you know, something they're supposed to do. "A default would have had a devastating effect on our economy," she said. "I'd start by reminding everyone that never in our nation's history has the United States ever defaulted on its full faith and credit or jeopardized our triple-A rating, so we can't underestimate how important this bill is to the American people. It's a victory for the American people."
2. The trigger at least protects programs for the poor! If the joint deficit committee fails to develop a plan to cut an additional $1.5 trillion by Thanksgiving, then a trigger of across-the-board cuts would take effect — but at least it exempts programs for the poor. "The whole goal of an enforcement mechanism is for it to never happen. The goal is to motivate action by the committee," said Furman. "[The trigger] would not impose any cuts in Social Security, no cuts in Medicaid, no cuts in food stamps, no cuts in TANF and other programs like that."
3. It makes big cuts to defense! Long seen as an outrageously expensive sacred cow, defense spending is now on the table. At $350 billion in immediate cuts, and another $600 billion over the next 10 years if the trigger goes off, it may even make up the biggest cuts in the deal. "[The initial] cuts are done evenly between the security part of the budget, which covers defense, and the nonsecurity part of the budget," said Furman. "This would be the first reduction in security spending since the 1990s."
4. The president tried his best! While Obama has been accused of weakly capitulating to Republicans, Jarrett stressed that with a divided government and a highly conservative GOP caucus that refused to compromise on much, this was the best he could do without risking a default. "We have no more room here to negotiate," she said. "It is not an ideal bill. The president would have loved to have seen revenues on the table in this bill. Unfortunately, we were unable to get that. … But at the 11th hour, when we've pushed as hard as we can, we really have no choice but to pass this bill. And the consequences of not passing it would be devastating."
Does this sell it for you at all?
Monday, Aug. 1, 1:00 p.m.
While President Obama is optimistic about the bipartisan debt-ceiling deal reached on Sunday night, just two days before a potential national default, the specter of defaulting still looms — Congress, after all, has to actually vote on it.
"Is this the deal I would have preferred? No," Obama admitted on Sunday of the deal, which includes more than $900 billion in spending cuts over 10 years, and would establish a bipartisan congressional committee charged with cutting $1.5 trillion more (with no tax increases allowed) by the end of the year. "I believe that we could have made the tough choices required — on entitlement reform and tax reform — right now, rather than through a special congressional committee process. But this compromise does make 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."
According to the White House fact sheet on the deal, the initial $900 billion in deficit reductions would come from capping discretionary spending and cutting $350 billion from the defense budget. Pell Grants are also specifically protected in the federal budget. Finally, the deal raises the debt limit in two stages that give the Treasury enough borrowing authority through 2013, preventing another showdown in the coming months.
But with the absence of revenue raising through eliminating tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, and no extension of unemployment insurance for the 14 million out-of-work Americans, liberal critics are finding it hard to see this as a "balanced" plan or much of a "deal" at all. A prominent voice in the backlash has been Congressional Black Caucus Chair Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who called it "a sugarcoated Satan sandwich." The caucus will meet on Monday afternoon to decide whether or not to oppose the bill, but if Cleaver's remarks are any indication … prospects look bleak.
Meanwhile, economists warn that investing less in the federal budget will worsen an already weak economy. Jared Bernstein, former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, wrote that "these cuts will hurt our ability to pursue what I view as most positive aspects of the President's economic agenda — investment in infrastructure, clean energy, research, education. They will pinch programs that are already budget constrained … programs that help low income people with child care, housing, and community services."
And on that note … the measure will be put to a congressional vote on Monday, starting with the House this afternoon.
Stay tuned for updates throughout the day.