The legislation, which easily passed the House on Monday, is virtually assured to clear the Senate shortly after noon today by a bipartisan tally. The White House promises Obama will sign the measure into law.
The legislation pairs an increase in the government’s borrowing cap with promises of more than $2 trillion of budget cuts over the upcoming decade. Its passage caps a long, difficult battle between tea party-powered House Republicans and Obama — with House Speaker John Boehner caught in the middle more than once.
After months of fiercely partisan struggle, the House’s top Republican and Democratic leaders swung behind the bill, ratifying a deal sealed Sunday night with a phone call from Boehner to Obama.
“I’m not happy with it,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “But I’m proud of some of the accomplishments in it. That’s why I’m voting for it.”
Much of the measure was negotiated on terms set by Boehner, which included a demand that any increase in the nation’s borrowing cap be matched by spending cuts at least as large. But it also meets demands made by Obama, including debt increases large enough to keep the government funded into 2013 and curbs on growth of the Pentagon budget.
Even though Obama strongly supported the measure, half of the chamber’s Democrats opposed it. Sixty-six conservative Republicans opposed the measure as well.
Still, after storming the Capital in January — only to see bill after bill die in the Democratic Senate — many junior House lawmakers opted to view the legislation through the prism of optimism.
“It’s about time that Congress come together and figure out a way to live within our means,” said Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis. “This bill is going to start that process, although it doesn’t go far enough.”
The measure would provide an immediate $400 billion increase in the $14.3 trillion U.S. borrowing cap, with $500 billion more assured this fall. That $900 billion would be matched by cuts to agency budgets over the next 10 years.
What follows next is more complicated. The measure establishes a special bipartisan committee to draft legislation to find up to $1.5 trillion more in deficit cuts for a vote later this year. They’re likely to come from so-called mandatory programs like federal retirement benefits, farm subsidies, Medicare and Medicaid. The savings would be matched by a further increase in the borrowing cap.
There’s no guarantee the committee, to be evenly split between the warring parties, will agree on such legislation. But there are powerful incentives to do so because more budget gridlock would trigger a crippling round of automatic cuts across much of the budget, including Pentagon coffers.