Minn. senators back debt bill
Published 8:03 am Wednesday, August 3, 2011
ST. PAUL — Minnesota Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken voted for emergency legislation allowing the government to borrow more money and avoid a U.S. government default.
The legislation combining a debt limit increase and spending cuts cleared the Senate 74-26 on Tuesday after months of paralysis over the issue.
President Barack Obama signed it into law hours before the government would have run out of money to pay all its bills.
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There was little suspense in the yes votes from Klobuchar and Franken, as both had said a day earlier they planned to support it.
“While it is certainly not a perfect plan, the time has come to break through the partisan stalemate and pass a solution that provides certainty so we can move our country forward,” Klobuchar said in a statement Monday.
Franken said in a statement Monday that “the consequences of … defaulting on our debt would be disastrous to all Minnesotans.”
Franken said the deal is not balanced and favors the Republicans.
“Unfortunately, in a game of chicken, the player most concerned about protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is put in the most difficult position,” he said in the statement.
A House vote Monday was more dramatic, splitting Minnesota’s eight-member delegation and revealing intraparty divisions among the Republicans and Democrats.
Local Democratic Rep. Tim Walz voted for the legislation.
What happens now?
The nation’s bills are being paid and Congress has bolted the hothouse of Washington, one debt limit deadline beaten and another ahead for a dozen yet-to-be-named lawmakers.
They might want to hold off making Thanksgiving and Christmas plans.
For the six Republicans and six Democrats, the toughest-to-swallow items on the deficit-cutting menu await. This group, to be named from the House and Senate in two weeks, must find at least $1.2 trillion in budget cuts by Thanksgiving and Congress must approve them by year’s end — or take the blame for deep and broad spending cuts that would strike GOP priorities like defense and Democratic favorites like programs for the poor.
And then lawmakers would have to explain the cuts to their constituents — up close and personally, on the campaign trail next year.
Facing the select group are a lot of the same “peas” that a frustrated President Barack Obama suggested Congress “eat” earlier in the difficult debate. Then as now, Democrats insist on balancing tax revenues with spending cuts. Republicans say taxes are off the table. That alone is a recipe for the same sort of staring contest that kept the sides from agreeing to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion borrowing limit until hours before the money was to run out Tuesday.
On Sunday night, the combatants agreed to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for $2.1 trillion in deficit cuts over a decade. The House overcame objections from conservatives Monday and passed the agreement with bipartisan support, 269-161. The Senate followed on Tuesday, 74-26. Obama signed the bill less than two hours later.
Talk immediately turned to the 12 House and Senate lawmakers and how the task awaiting them looks much like the ideological divide that was bridged only by the debt ceiling deadline and the threat of economic disaster.
The new panel’s target is to find $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade, including interest savings. Congress will have until Christmas to vote on the recommendations.
As an incentive for Congress to act, failure to do so would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, affecting the Pentagon as well as domestic programs.
In the afterglow of the deal’s passage Tuesday, Senate leaders were optimistic.
“Hanging over the head of the joint committee is this trigger that is pretty drastic,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said.
“The joint committee is not going to gridlock,” said the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The panel is “designed to function and to tackle some of the very difficult problems that we have been unwilling or unable to deal with.”
The agreement enacted Tuesday calls for $917 billion in discretionary spending to be cut over a decade from Cabinet-level agencies and the thousands of programs they administer.
The new committee will scour the so-called mandatory side of the budget — programs whose spending levels run on autopilot. They include Medicare and Medicaid, the government’s health care for seniors and the poor, as well as Social Security and veterans’ retirement benefits.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.