NPR logo Many In Black Caucus Spurned 'Satan Sandwich' Debt Deal; Fault Obama

Many In Black Caucus Spurned 'Satan Sandwich' Debt Deal; Fault Obama

It'll take a while for House Democrats to get over the bitter taste of the "Satan sandwich," also known as the law passed Tuesday to raise the federal debt ceiling.

They have spent much of Tuesday afternoon explaining why just as many of them voted against the bill as for it. Among the most strident are members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the majority of whom ignored the pleas of party leaders—including President Obama—and voted 'no.'

While caucus members acknowledge the bill was necessary to avert a government default, they decided to make a symbolic point.

"The Congressional Black Caucus has always opposed default on the debt ceiling and the catastrophic effect it would have on communities of color and on our country. The bill that was put before the Congress, by making no pretense at balance, harms our community. Many CBC members therefore felt compelled to vote no on the bill," CBC Chairman Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO) said in a statement.

The bill finally passed the House on a 269-161 vote, with 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats in support. The nays broke down to 66 Republicans and 95 Democrats—the same number that voted for the measure.

Among the 40 black caucus members, 16 voted 'aye' and 24 'nay'.

Black lawmakers who, along with their constituencies, are among the most loyal supports of Obama, also have been highly critical of the president for his role in the negotiations with congressional Republicans.

They blame him for a series of retreats that put safety net and other social programs on the table for cuts. Many of them complain Obama ceded too much ground from the start by agreeing to tie budget cuts to a debt-ceiling lift.

Cleaver, an ordained minister, tweeted on Monday that the legislation is a "sugar-coated Satan sandwich. If you lift the bun, you will not like what you see." The tweet quickly went viral, summing up Democrats' frustration with the bill.

During the House vote on Monday, Republicans lacked the votes among their members and had to ask the Democrats to help. Many Democrats were not obliging at first.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reluctantly swallowed her own misgivings (she expanded on Cleaver's metaphor, saying the bill comes with a side of "Satan fries") at one point, imploring her likewise unhappy caucus, "Please, please, please come down in favor of, again, preventing the collateral damage from reaching our seniors and our veterans."

In a Monday conference call hosted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington think tank, black caucus member Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), said the true "pain" will come in September, when lawmakers begin drafting an appropriations bill for the new fiscal year that will identify which areas of the budget will actually be slashed.

"Low-income heating assistance, community health centers, Pell Grants, Head Start... we expect those programs to be first on the chopping block," Scott said.

Scott pivoted to Obama's handling of the negotiations, adding that they set a politically dangerous precedent that Republicans likely will exploit in the next phase of budget deliberations.

"Since they did so well in this deal, there is an unfortunate expectation they will be emboldened to do it again," he said. "Emboldened to shut down the government on Sept. 30 when they don't have an appropriations bill."