- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2011

President Obama and congressional leaders late Sunday said they’ve settled on the outlines of a deal to raise the government’s borrowing limit, and will pitch the deal to their colleagues Monday to try to tamp down burgeoning rebellions among both Democrats and Republicans.

“This process has been messy. It’s taken far too long,” Mr. Obama said at the White House in announcing the leaders’ agreement. “Nevertheless, ultimately the leaders of both parties have found their way toward compromise.”

Already, though, pressure was growing from both ends of the political spectrum to reject the deal, and Republican leaders in the House and Senate both pointedly told their colleagues there is just a framework, and any final deal will depend on the reactions of rank-and-file lawmakers.

The framework calls for an immediate $900 billion increase in debt authority, which would last through early next year, coupled with new 10-year spending caps that should reduce spending over the next decade by $917 billion.

Another $1.5 trillion in debt authority could be authorized if Congress approves and sends to the states a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, or if a newly established special deficit committee recommends at least that much in savings in a report expected by November.

Republicans said the deal, if it survives upcoming votes in the House and Senate, would mark the first time that an extension of borrowing authority would be tied to spending cuts.

“To pass this settlement, we’ll need the support of Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate. There is no way either party — in either chamber — can do this alone,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said on the Senate floor as he told colleagues of the progress.

That support was fraying even before the framework was announced.

Liberal members of Congress said the deficit committee would likely end up cutting Social Security and Medicare, and they chastised Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders for refusing to insist that tax increases be part of the deal.

“Today we, and everyone we have worked to speak for and fight for, were thrown under the bus,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, Arizona Democrat, who is co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

From the right, activists said they feared the committee will end up looking to raise taxes, which they called anathema to conservative principles.

And still other lawmakers straddling the ideological divide feared future spending limits would cut too deeply into the military.

Mr. Obama said he wanted to tackle both tax increases and cuts in the major entitlement programs in this deal, but said that will now be up to the newly established committee.

That committee will be made up of 12 members of Congress, who must submit their report before Thanksgiving. Both chambers will then have to vote before Christmas. The committee can look into any area of spending or taxes.

If the committee stalemates or is unable to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in savings, tough across-the-board cuts will automatically take effect, and would apply to most regular domestic spending, and to defense and Medicare.

The point, Mr. Obama said, was to make the punishment so harsh that the committee will have to come up with an agreement, and both chambers will feel compelled to adopt it.

Both sides said the committee will give them a chance to continue fighting for their priorities: in Mr. Obama’s case, for tax increases on high-income taxpayers and corporations, and in Republicans’ case, for reducing the costs of entitlements.

All sides are racing to beat a Tuesday deadline, which is when the Treasury Department says the government will bump into the $14.29 trillion limit on how much debt the government can accumulate.

If borrowing authority isn’t increased, the government would have to suspend some payments, and the administration has said Social Security checks, veterans’ benefits and the like could be at risk.

Now, the challenge for Congress will be not only to win approval, but to do it more quickly than either chamber is used to acting.

However, Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, told CNN that he planned to filibuster the agreement, which would require a 60-vote majority to break and which could delay passage until after the Tuesday deadline.

Still, Rep. Robert E. Andrews, New Jersey Democrat, said he thought his House colleagues in both parties would end up supporting the deal.

“I am confident there will be a critical mass of members who understand the gravity of getting this done, and I am very confident it will pass,” Mr. Andrews said. “This is going to be a Rubik’s Cube, that is yet to be figured out, but people’s sense of duty will overcome their sense of doubt.”

Sunday’s optimism for a deal stood in stark contrast to the previous two days, when the House and Senate each voted to kill the other’s proposals.

The breakthrough in negotiations came Saturday after Republicans, who just a week earlier had cut Mr. Obama out of talks, asked that he rejoin them. A plea from Mr. McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor Saturday, spurred calls back and forth between the Republican leader and both Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden, which helped frame the outlines of a possible deal.

While the negotiations were going on behind closed doors, the House and Senate were busy killing each other’s proposals.

The Senate on Friday rejected House Speaker John A. Boehner’s $900 billion debt increase, the House on Saturday rejected a version of Mr. Reid’s $2.4 trillion increase, and then the Senate itself was unable to overcome a filibuster of Mr. Reid’s bill on Sunday.

So far, the House has sent over two different debt-increase bills, while the Senate has yet to pass one.

Now, both sides seem to have won concessions dear to them.

Senate Democrats would avoid a series of difficult political-season votes that their leaders have desperately tried to protect them from. They don’t want to have to face the issue at the height of the 2012 election campaign.

Republicans, meanwhile, won most of the arguments over spending principles: the agreement is unlikely to include specific tax increases, and will include limits on future spending in exchange for a debt increase. Also, the deal would reduce future deficits by more than it raises the debt.

“There is nothing in this framework that violates our principles. It’s all spending cuts,” Mr. Boehner told House Republicans on a conference call Sunday night. “The White House bid to raise taxes has been shut down. And as I vowed back in May — when everyone thought I was crazy for saying it — every dollar of debt-limit increase will be matched by more than a dollar of spending cuts.”

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