Neither Side Showed Appetite For Passing House Bill

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The Senate is expected to vote at noon Tuesday on the debt ceiling deal, after the House passed it Monday night by a convincing majority, 269 to 161. That included a lopsided majority of Republicans, while Democrats were split.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

An epic fight over paying the nation's bills is almost over. On this deadline day to raise the federal debt limit, the Senate is expected to pass a measure to raise the debt ceiling.

INSKEEP: Extending the borrowing authority means the U.S. will be able to keep the commitments approved in the past by Congress. The deal also cuts back federal deficits over a decade and provides for more reductions soon. That deal was a compromise that few lawmakers professed to love.

MONTAGNE: Still, it easily cleared the House yesterday, in a vote that included a moment of drama.

NPR's Brian Naylor starts our coverage.

BRIAN NAYLOR: It was a vote that neither side seemingly had much of an appetite for. But as the clock ticked towards a midnight deadline tonight, and with the threat of default hanging over lawmaker's heads, members of the House did what most felt they must do.

Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said it was actually a moment to celebrate. He noted that both parties, in his words, got us into this mess and both worked to get us out.

Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin, Chairman, Budget Committee): We have a bipartisan compromise here. That doesn't happen all that often around here, so I think its worth noting that's a good thing.

NAYLOR: The compromise lifts the debt ceiling in two stages, tying the additional borrowing authority to new, sharp cuts in discretionary spending. The first stage, about $900 billion over 10 years, will be followed by another round. Those cuts will be recommended by a special committee of lawmakers, six from each party. The Super Committee is charged with coming up with another 1.5 trillion in savings by Thanksgiving. If they can't reach a consensus then there will be automatic cuts, half from whets been labeled security or defense programs and half from other spending.

Like many Republicans, Mike Pence of Indiana said it was a start.

Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): This day where we see the ship of state turning ever so slightly, toward that lodestar of fiscal responsibility, this day does not belong so much to any one political leader, to any one political party, or to any one branch of government. This day belongs to the American people.

NAYLOR: Sixty-six Republicans voted against the measure, largely because they felt the cuts didn't go far enough, or in some cases, were too weighted towards defense spending. In exchange for giving up on raising revenues as part of the debt reduction plan, Democrats won big cuts in the Pentagon and Homeland Security budgets.

House speaker John Boehner met with Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee, and said he told them they should take the deal.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio, Speaker): But as I told them, this is the best defense number we're going to get. And frankly, if we don't pass the bill it's pretty clear to me what will happen. The defense number will go down.

NAYLOR: Democrats were evenly spilt on the measure. Many, including Maxine Waters of California, lashed out at fiscally conservative Tea Party members for pushing the steep spending cuts.

Representative MAXINE WATERS (Democrat, California): Whats clear is that the tea party is so ideologically driven to kill government, that they're willing, kill the private sector, kill jobs, and kill growth in the process.

NAYLOR: Other progressives, like Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said the cuts were likely to slash the safety net.

Representative JIM MCGOVERN (Democrat, Massachusetts): Mr. Speaker, I did not come to Washington to dismantle the New Deal or the Great Society. And I did not come to Washington t force more people into poverty.

NAYLOR: Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who conceded that she was on the fence, eventually gave the deal her tepid support.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California, Minority Leader): It's hard to believe that we are putting our best foot forward with the legislation that comes before us today. I'm not happy with it, but I'm proud of some of the accomplishments in it; and that's why I'm voting for it.

NAYLOR: Now the focus shifts to the Senate, where the measure is expected to pass with little trouble. It will take 60 votes, but as Republican leader Mitch McConnell was one of the key negotiators, it seems likely to reach that threshold. Assuming so, the White House says President Obama will sign the agreement, bringing to an end a fiscal crisis that has consumed Washington and worried financial markets worldwide.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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