Compromise But Little Consensus As House OKs Bill

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It's all over, it seems, but the voting. At midday Tuesday the Senate is expected to do what the House did Monday — muster a large bipartisan majority and pass a compromise bill to raise the debt ceiling, narrowly averting a first-ever default.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

At midday today, the Senate expects to do what the House has already done. A bipartisan majority is likely to pass a bill to raise the federal debt ceiling. It includes spending cuts spread out over a decade with a prospect of more to come.

If the bill passes, which is expected, the president is expected to sign the bill almost immediately to complete a deal. It would end a crisis that's shaken confidence in the nation's credit as well as its political leaders.

Our coverage begins with NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: Yesterday was all about persuading rank-and-file lawmakers to line up behind the deal their leader struck with the White House over the weekend. Because that compromise was a bipartisan effort, selling it was not a matter of us versus them. It was more a message of pass this or court disaster.

In the morning, Majority Leader Harry Reid warned fellow senators that this political nightmare would not be over until President Obama had signed that deal into law.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): After weeks of facing off against each other in this partisan divide we have here in the Senate, we were finally able to break through with an agreement, an agreement that is typical for agreements that are difficult. No one got what they wanted. Everyone had to give something up. People on the right are upset. People on the left are upset. People in the middle are upset. It was a compromise.

WELNA: In the House, not one of the top three GOP leaders got up to defend that compromise when it was debated. It fell to Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to hold out an olive branch to the Democrats, who would be needed to get the bill passed, since so many Republicans were still opposed to it.

Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin): What this has done it has brought our two parties together. And so I'd just like to take a second to reflect for a moment the fact that we have a bipartisan compromise here. It doesn't happen all that often around here, so I think it's worth noting. That's a good thing.

WELNA: Nancy Pelosi, the chamber's top Democrat, endorsed that compromise over the weekend. But she did little to hide her own misgivings about a bill that cuts a trillion dollars in spending just to raise the debt ceiling by the same amount.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; House Minority Leader): I urge you to consider voting yes, but I completely respect the hesitation that members have about this.

WELNA: As voting began on the bill early in the evening, most Democrats held back, waiting for Republicans to show their support. Then suddenly, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle leaped to their feet and filled the chamber with applause.

(Soundbite of applause)

WELNA: They were applauding the unexpected return of Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who had been absent since being shot in the face by a gunman last January in Tucson. Pelosi hailed Giffords' show-stopping appearance.

Rep. PELOSI: Her presence here in the chamber as well as her service throughout her entire service in Congress brings honor to this chamber.

WELNA: And the yes vote Giffords cast seemed to break a dam holding back Democratic support for the measure. The overall tally quickly shot up to 269 in favor and 161 against.

In the Senate, Leader Reid quickly announced a noon vote on the bill. Passage will require 60 votes in the Senate, and some conservatives, such as Louisiana Republican David Vitter, made clear they plan to vote no.

Senator DAVID VITTER (Republican, Louisiana): This bill, this so-called solution, doesn't fundamentally change our spending and debt picture. It just plays around the margins. It doesn't make any big change whatsoever.

WELNA: Senate liberals, including Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, called the bill a bad deal that relied only on spending cuts to shrink deficits.

Senator TOM HARKIN (Democrat, Iowa): Cutting the safety net for a lot of the most vulnerable people in our society, we can do that, but we can't, we just simply can't ask one more dollar of shared sacrifice from the millionaires and billionaires who have made so much money in the last decade and who have received - thanks to this Congress - huge tax breaks. It is not fair.

WELNA: But for Lamar Alexander, the Senate's number three Republican, the bill was a GOP victory.

Senator LAMAR ALEXANDER (Republican, Tennessee): We've changed the agenda from spend, spend, spend to cut, cut, cut. If we did the same thing with every debt ceiling increase for the next 10 years that we've done here, we'd balance the budget in 10 years.

WELNA: Alexander might be right if he could find anyone wishing to repeat this past month, year after year.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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