Bill To Raise The Debt Ceiling Becomes Law

It's done. It's signed. And, at least for now, lawmakers can take a break from fighting over the debt ceiling. President Obama signed the legislation Tuesday afternoon. It raises the government's borrowing limit and cuts future spending.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: And I'm Melissa Block. It's done. It's signed. And at least for now, lawmakers can take a break from fighting over the debt ceiling. President Obama signed the legislation this afternoon. It raises the government's borrowing limit and cuts future spending. The bipartisan bill left no one happy and that is the hallmark of a compromise, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. We'll talk with him in a moment. First, NPR's David Welna walks us through the bill's final day before it became law.

DAVID WELNA: Minutes before signing the debt ceiling increase into law, President Obama stepped out to the White House Rose Garden to vent a bit about the drama the country has just been through. He called the prolonged congressional standoff over raising the debt limit a manufactured crisis. Voters, he added, may have chosen divided government but certainly not a dysfunctional government.

President BARACK OBAMA: It's pretty likely that the uncertainty surrounding the raising of the debt ceiling - for both businesses and consumers - has been unsettling, and just one more impediment to the full recovery that we need. And it was something that we could have avoided entirely.

WELNA: Earlier at the Capitol, Republican senators, including Georgia's Johnny Isakson, insisted the whole debt ceiling ordeal had been worthwhile.

Senator JOHNNY ISAKSON: Never again will a debt ceiling go up without a debate for commensurate cuts in spending. That's important.

WELNA: Still, of the 26 senators voting against the bill raising the debt ceiling, 19 were Republicans, and nearly half of them were Tea Party-backed freshmen, including Kentucky's Rand Paul.

Senator RAND PAUL: Many pundits are arguing that the Tea Party has won this battle. They misunderstand the debate. This battle isn't about winners and losers. It's about the future of our country. It's about saving ourselves from ourselves.

WELNA: For New Hampshire freshman Republican Kelly Ayotte, the bill requires far too little real deficit reduction.

Senator KELLY AYOTTE: I cannot in good conscience agree to a deal that continues to perpetuate the culture of overspending and borrowing in Washington.

WELNA: Republican leader Mitch McConnell was central in crafting the compromise bill. Still, he expressed solidarity with the rebellious remarks made by his recently installed fellow Republicans.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL: I know that for some of our colleagues reform isn't coming as fast as they would like, and I certainly understand their frustration. I too wish we could stand here today enacting something much more ambitious. But I'm encouraged by the thought that these new senators will help lead this fight until we finish the job.

WELNA: That prompted a sharp reply from Majority Leader Harry Reid. He took issue with how useful the rowdy freshmen Republicans have been.

Senator HARRY REID: I welcome them all, but a result of the Tea Party direction of this Congress the last few months has been very, very disconcerting and very unfair to the American people. It stopped us from arriving at a conclusion much earlier, and we must go forward.

WELNA: Seven Democrats voted against the debt ceiling compromise. Even those who voted for it said they did so quite reluctantly, including Michigan's Carl Levin.

Senator CARL LEVIN: With a vote to approve this bill, which we must, it is my hope that we have reached the high tide of an ideological movement that has sought to hold tax cuts for the wealthy sacred, while imposing increasingly draconian cuts on American families.

WELNA: Missouri Republican Roy Blunt invoked an old legislative saying to describe the dilemma facing many senators.

Senator ROY BLUNT: This is not the best possible bill, but it's the best bill possible.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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