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Debt Issue Remains Contentious

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sens. Bob Corker (center) and Mark Udall (right) both regret that the August debt ceiling deal did not result in an agreement on deficit reduction, and they hope there will be more opportunities for such an agreement in the near future.

Today’s balanced budget amendment votes in the Senate will fulfill the letter of the law but will do little beyond putting a coda on Congress’ failure to reach a bipartisan deficit reduction deal this year.

Following the collapse of the super committee last month and the House’s own unsuccessful vote to pass a balanced budget amendment, the Senate votes today appear to be a futile exercise that nevertheless is required by the August debt deal. That law held that both chambers must vote on constitutional amendments to balance the budget, even if one chamber had already failed to pass it. As was the result in the House, the Senate is not expected to pass either the Democratic or the GOP balanced budget offering today.

Despite leaving lawmakers feeling unfulfilled, Members accept that the debt deal at least succeeded in creating the political conditions to allow the debt ceiling to be raised by $2.1 trillion, and it will result in cutting the deficit by the same amount. However, $1.2 trillion of that will come in an across-the-board cut, which lawmakers and budget experts believe is bad policy.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who voted for the debt ceiling deal, said he sees it as “an enormous lost opportunity.”

Udall was among a group of Senators urging the committee to agree to a “big” deal that would cut about $4 trillion from the deficit over 10 years.

Udall also said the increase in the debt ceiling was a necessary achievement, although it came at a price: the first-ever downgrade of United States’ credit rating.

“It was [successful] in a very elemental way,” Udall said. “We raised the debt ceiling. We did it too late, much to my great consternation and anger because of the downgrade of the country’s credit [rating]. So in that way, it was not a futile effort.

“Do I wish the super committee had come up with a proposal and gone big? Yes,” Udall continued. “Do I think we need some way to bind future Congresses so we don’t get ourselves in this situation again? Yes.”

Udall and five other Senate Democrats are sponsoring their party’s version of the balanced budget amendment, which the Senate will consider today.

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