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July 31, 2011

US Debt Deal Compromise Leaves Many Unhappy

by Jim Malone

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a compromise deal to raise the country's debt limit and cutting spending, one day before the government is due to start defaulting on its debt. In a vote Monday night, 269 House members approved the deal and 161 opposed it.

The 11th hour compromise agreed to by President Barack Obama and U.S. congressional leaders late Sunday prevented the United States from defaulting on its debt.  But it also left some people on both sides of the political spectrum unhappy with the result.  

One of the key players in the congressional debt debate drama was the leader of the Republican minority in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

It was McConnell who joined forces with President Obama late in the game to forge a bipartisan deal that will cut about $1 trillion over 10 years and will set the stage for additional cuts through a special congressional panel.

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McConnell, speaking on the CBS program "Face the Nation", said, “We’ve got a history of robust political debate, but this country has always come together at critical moments and we are at one of those critical moments right now and we are going to come together and we are going to get the job done for the American people.”

U.S. Debt Deal Facts

  • It allows the debt ceiling to rise by up to $2.4 trillion - enough to keep the country borrowing money until 2013.
  • It includes spending cuts that could reach $2.5 trillion, to exceed the amount of the debt ceiling increase.
  • It initally cuts spending by at least $900 billion over 10 years, and creates a bipartisan budget committee to find additional deficit reduction of at least $1.5 trillion.
  • If the committee fails by late November to find additional ways to reduce the deficit, the failure would trigger automatic cuts across the government to take effect in 2013. Among them would be the first reduction in Defense Department spending in decades.
  • The deal does not include the Republicans' goal of requiring a balanced-budget amendment. It also leaves out the Democrats' plan to end some tax cuts for the wealthy.

Public opinion polls showed that Americans wanted a compromise on the debt issue to avoid a default that many fear would have further weakened the U.S. economy.

In announcing the compromise, President Obama said that his appeals to public opinion for a bipartisan compromise helped to convince lawmakers that it was time to end the stalemate over raising the debt ceiling.

“It has been your voices, your letters, your emails, your tweets, your phone calls that have compelled Washington to act in the final days," he said.

The Tea Party faction was a major factor in driving the debate for spending cuts, especially in the House of Representatives where many of the 87 new Republican members owe some measure of support to Tea Party activists in their home districts.

Some lawmakers with Tea Party backing are unhappy with the compromise because they wanted deeper spending cuts.

But many Tea Party organizers are claiming credit for the deal and the scope of the spending cuts included.

“It was only eight months ago that the Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House and they [refused to deal with the issue]," said Amy Kremer of the Tea Party Express, who spoke on the C-SPAN public affairs cable TV network. "They didn’t do anything about it. That is completely irresponsible. The American people want this problem fixed."

Many liberal Democrats are far less happy with the deal, angered that the president went along with Republican demands for deep cuts without any tax increases as part of the final compromise.

“In order to please the Tea Party base of the Republican Party, they are literally holding our whole economy hostage and threatening to put a knife in our economy in order to protect tax cuts for millionaires and corporations and to win big cuts to vital services," said Justin Ruben, who is with the liberal organization MoveOn.Org and also spoke on C-SPAN.

Most analysts say Republicans will get credit for driving the debate over the debt and cutting the budget deficit.  But the deal could help President Obama with centrist voters when he seeks re-election next year.

Democratic political strategist Mark Penn says both sides have challenges in the months ahead.

“The president has to make a stronger case in stating the values behind what he is agreeing to.  And the Republicans, on the other hand, look like the only thing they are concerned about is cutting programs like Medicare and Medicaid," he said.

The debt deal will likely resonate in next year’s presidential and congressional elections where the domestic economy is expected to be the central issue.