WASHINGTON — The United States Senate is expected to easily pass an increase in the nation’s borrowing limit today, sending the compromise legislation to President Obama for his signature before a midnight deadline.
The final plan cuts spending by $1 trillion immediately and raises the debt limit by as much as $2.5 trillion, contingent on Congress passing additional cuts by the end of the year. The House approved the bill Monday night.
The debt limit debate was all-consuming on Capitol Hill this summer, with Republican leadership constantly juggling the different factions of their majority in the House and the White House trying at all costs to put revenue increases in a final deficit reduction package.
The final compromise was, as John Kline said Monday, not the ideal result for either party.
“This product is frankly much better than I was afraid it would be,” he said, but “there is not a single person in either party who says this is perfect.”
Opinions varied among those in the Minnesota delegation as well.
Kline was a big supporter of the various Republican debt limit plans that the House of Representatives voted on. Like nearly all Republicans, he held up July’s Cut, Cap and Balance legislation as the best possible outcome. The plan would have cut federal spending immediately, capped it at 18 percent of GDP (down from the current level of 24 percent) and submitted a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification.
When the bill failed to pass the Senate, Kline became an early supporter of House Speaker John Boehner’s alternative plan that barley passed last week, and the eventual deal reached through Republican leadership negotiations with the White House.
Kline, the senior Republican in the Minnesota delegation, was also one of the loudest voices supporting the plans, making the rounds on Twin Cities television and radio stations a few weeks ago to advocate for Cut, Cap and Balance. To a certain extent, that’s Kline, a committee chairman, plugging the party’s plans to constituents. But they were plans Kline was a true believer in — he’s long been a supporter of using federal funds wisely, and praised the end result as “fundamentally [changing] the way Washington spends taxpayer money.”
Erik Paulsen, a member of the tax writing Ways and Means Committee, was an early advocate for tax code reform — but not tax increases — as part of a debt limit increase package. He supported Cut, Cap and Balance and was a “reluctant yes” on Boehner’s alternative plan and, like Kline, had said throughout the summer that he was looking for a package to dramatically reform federal tax and spend policy.
Along those lines, Paulsen said in a statement that he wasn’t entirely sold on the final plan, though he eventually voted yes on it.
“The simple truth is that relying on another special committee and not mandating a balanced budget clearly shows that Washington has a long way to go in ending its spending addiction,” he said. “While we may have succeeded in forcing Washington to change the conversation on the size of government, this is only a small step towards doing what is needed to adequately address our spending-driven debt crisis and end Washington-style accounting gimmicks.”
No debt limit deal was going to win the approval of Michele Bachmann, the 6th District Republican and presidential candidate who said she would only vote to raise the ceiling if Congress was able to defund the health care reform law instituted last March, an option that simply was never on the table.
Bachmann has highlighted her opposition to raising the limit frequently in her young run for the Republican nomination for president. She mentioned it in her first Iowa campaign ad; it was the lead of her second; and this past weekend, she sent out two fundraising emails with the subject line, “I will not vote to raise the debt ceiling.”
For Bachmann (and Ron Paul, another tea party Republican candidate who voted against the debt limit), opposing an increase to the ceiling is a badge of honor while campaigning for the party nomination and trying to appeal to party activists who vigorously oppose President Barack Obama’s economic policies. She used her opposition as a rallying cry against Washington politics, contending the Obama administration was exaggerating the consequences of default in order to receive a “blank check” for future spending.
For a month and a half on the stump, Bachmann made the debt limit the top topic, and, perhaps not coincidentally, her polling numbers have increased the entire time.
Republican Chip Cravaack’s votes were perhaps the most intriguing ones from the whole delegation. Cravaack, like most other Republicans, was a big Cut, Cap and Balance supporter but he was coy about his votes on the Boehner bill and the final compromise until minutes before the he cast them.
In both cases, Cravaack said he couldn’t support the bills because they didn’t change the course of spending enough and risked a downgrade in the U.S.’s bond rating. For the latter bill, Cravaack cited possible cuts to military and Medicare spending that could come if Congress doesn’t approve an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by December.
Cravaack’s opposition can keep him in good graces with both the Republicans he voted against and his 8th District constituents, who have already seen a steady stream of liberal groups’ ads attacking him for looking to “end Medicare” by supporting the Paul Ryan budget plan. He’s able to balance both those constituencies, as well as the personal philosophy that got him elected.
Cravaack is not a tea party-aligned Republican, but he has made cutting spending a top priority for his first term in Congress. In an interview Monday, he said even voting to raise the debt limit (through Cut, Cap and Balance) was a compromise on his part.
“In return, I asked to have some common sense,” he said. “I’m just an average guy from Minnesota who wants to come here to solve the problem. The problem is runaway spending.”
Minnesota’s Democrats split significantly on the debt limit throughout much the process. All four of them voted against Cut, Cap and Balance, but that’s about where the similarities end.
Collin Peterson, a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat, didn’t vote to raise the limit all summer until Monday when he supported the compromise plan. He was the only Minnesota Democrat who voted against a clean debt limit increase in June and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan last week.
The symmetry is evident: he voted against two Republican plans (Cut, Cap and Balance and the Boehner bill) and two Democratic ones (the clean increase and the Reid bill) before supporting the compromise plan. His fellow moderate, Tim Walz, joined him on that last vote.
The delegation’s two most liberal members, Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison, were among the 95 members of the House Democratic conference that voted against the compromise plan. The two were among a group of Democrats who had not only hoped for tax increases as part of a debt limit increase package, but in fact nearly insisted on it.
Both quietly voted for the Reid plan (which had no revenue increases), but derided the final compromise legislation.
Ellison, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, lobbied against the plan throughout the day Monday, saying he supported President Obama using the Constitution to justify unilaterally raising the debt limit rather than supporting the compromise.
McCollum, meanwhile, released a blistering statement: “Tying massive cuts to a debt ceiling increase is completely unnecessary, totally counterproductive, and it will make America’s job crisis even worse. And, with this bill, the Republicans are tossing the heavy burden of deficit reduction onto America’s middle class without asking even one penny from the nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations.”
After the Senate’s vote on the plan Tuesday (both Minnesota senators will support the bill), Congress will be in recess for all of August. When they return in September, members will have less than a month to pass the 2012 fiscal year budget, setting up perhaps an even bigger battle over spending cuts, tax increases and the role of government.
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com.