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Is Congress Able to Move On?

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the bruising battle over the debt ceiling was a debate that “Washington very much needed to have.”

“I’ve said it before; I will say it again: We can’t balance the budget on the backs of the very people who have borne the biggest brunt of this recession,” Obama said. “We can’t make it tougher for young people to go to college or ask seniors to pay more for health care or ask scientists to give up on promising medical research because we couldn’t close a tax shelter for the most fortunate among us. Everyone is going to have to chip in. It’s only fair. That’s the principle I’ll be fighting for during the next phase of this process.”

Many Republicans chalked up the deficit reduction deal as an opening victory in their quest for smaller government, and it came despite having a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic majority in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who played a key role in brokering the deal and received a cheer from the GOP Conference in its weekly lunch, said that far from showing dysfunction, it was a debate that “Washington very much needed to have.”

The Kentucky lawmaker said the debate will be a template for all future debt limit increases.

“Never again will any president be allowed to raise the debt ceiling without being held accountable for it by the American people,” he said.

Democrats grudgingly accepted the plan, which significantly limits spending for the domestic programs that they have championed, in return for avoiding a potentially catastrophic crisis.

“Our country was literally on the verge of a disaster,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

The Nevada Democrat hailed the bill as a compromise that would help reduce the deficit and stabilize the economy. Reid warned that the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction cannot simply include spending cuts without addressing revenue.

“That’s not going to happen; otherwise, the trigger is going to kick in,” he said. Under that trigger, defense and domestic programs including Medicare would face an automatic $1.2 trillion spending cut starting Jan. 1, 2013 — the same date the Bush tax cuts are slated to expire.

For some liberals, the bill was too bitter a pill. Sen. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) said Republicans used “extortion” to get Democrats to agree to the plan.

Conservative Republicans complained the package left almost all of the cuts to 2013 and beyond — effectively leaving it up to the next Congress and the president. More than 98 percent of the claimed savings would come after next year’s elections.

Sen. Jerry Moran said the deal merely reduces projected increases in spending over the next decade. And the $21 billion in deficit reduction over the first year of the agreement would cover less than a week’s worth of borrowing, the Kansas Republican noted.

Republicans and Democrats alike also complained about the two-step nature of the deal, with a $917 billion agreement to slice spending over the next decade now and an additional $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion to come later from the new joint committee by Thanksgiving.

“We’ve wasted this crisis,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said on the floor Monday, adding that the Senate should have embraced the $3.7 trillion “gang of six” plan that was based on the Bowles-Simpson plan from last year’s fiscal commission.

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