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Debt Limit Deal Becomes Law

Bill Clark/Roll Call

"The richest of the rich ... contributed nothing to this," he said, and he expressed hope that the joint deficit reduction committee set up by the legislation would rectify that.

That committee cannot simply include spending cuts without revenue, Reid warned.

"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 in 2013.

For many liberals, the bill was too bitter a pill. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said Republicans used "extortion" to get Democrats to agree to the plan. He said it failed to take on any of the tax breaks that benefit the wealthy or corporations.

Conservative Republicans, meanwhile, complained the package left almost all of the cuts to 2013 and beyond effectively leaving it up to the next Congress and the president.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) complained the deal merely reduces projected increases in spending over the next decade.

The backloaded nature of the deal also came under fire from GOP conservatives, considering more than 98 percent of the claimed savings would come after next year's election. The $21 billion in deficit reduction over the first year of the agreement would cover less than a week's worth of borrowing, Moran 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 another $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, complaining 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.

And Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) supported the deal, although he said the defense cuts, including the spending-cut trigger, came close to a violation of lawmakers' oath of office.

Of the 74 Senate supporters of the bill, 46 were Members of the Democratic Conference and 28 were Republicans. Six Democrats, 19 Republicans and Democratic-leaning Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) voted against the deal.

But with the deal done, the larger sense in both parties is one of relief. The debate over the debt ceiling had brought the nation's other business to a virtual standstill.

And the bill effectively includes a budget for appropriations bills for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, potentially smoothing the way for Congress to avoid another bruising shutdown showdown before the election.

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