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Congress moving quickly on debt and spending deal

WASHINGTON (AP) - Emergency legislation to avoid an
economy-rattling government default and slice federal spending by
$2 trillion or more sped toward a showdown vote in the House on
Monday and possibly the Senate as well, just a day before the
deadline for action.
`I feel confident this will pass," declared Vice President Joe
Biden, dispatched by the White House to lobby disgruntled Democrats in the Capitol.
At the same time, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio pressed
Republican conservatives behind closed doors to support the deal he
sealed with a phone call Sunday night to President Barack Obama. At
a news conference, he said the legislation would "solve this debt
crisis and help get the American people back to work."
The measure would cut federal spending by at least $2.1 trillion
over a decade - and possibly considerably more - and would not
require tax increases. The U.S. debt limit would rise by at least
$2.1 trillion, tiding the Treasury over through the 2012 elections.
Moving with unusual speed, Republican leaders ordered debate to
begin on the House floor at mid-afternoon. That followed public
pledges of support from some first-termers as well as veteran
defense hawks - two areas of concern with the agreement.
Rep. C.W. (Bill) Young, chairman of the committee that handles
the defense budget, said, "We're confident that we can make this
happen without affecting readiness and without affecting any of our
soldiers."
There were Republican critics, as well, but they were harder to
find than last week when they derailed an earlier bill Boehner
brought to the floor.
"I'm looking for a reason to vote yes," said Rep. Louie
Gohmert of Texas, shortly before debate began on the measure. "I
haven't found it, and I've been looking since 2 a.m."
After months of wrangling over a deal, there was little time
left for lawmakers to decide.
Without legislation in place by the end of Tuesday, the Treasury
would run out of cash needed to pay all its bills. Administration
officials say a default would ensue that would severely damage the
economy.
Beyond merely avoiding disaster, Obama and congressional leaders
hoped their extraordinary accord would reassure investors at home
and around the world, preserve the United States' Aaa credit rating
and begin to slow the growth in America's soaring debt. In a
roller-coaster day on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average
surged, then sank and finally finished down for a seventh straight
session but only slightly.
There was little suspense about the outcome for the debt-limit
legislation in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid,
D-Nev., announced a vote would occur either Monday evening or on
Tuesday.
A member of the Republican leadership in the Senate predicted
strong GOP support. "Maybe 35 (of 47) will support it in the end.
There will be some who will pull back," said Sen. Mike Crapo of
Idaho.
Already, the legislation was emerging as an issue in the 2012
presidential campaign.
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and former Massachusetts Gov.
Mitt Romney announced their opposition, while Newt Gingrich issued
a statement without saying how he would vote.
The final legislation reflected the priorities of the two
political parties.
It would immediately increase the debt limit by $400 billion,
with another $500 billion envisioned unless Congress blocks it. At
the same time, it would cut more than $900 billion over 10 years
from the day-to-day operating budgets of Cabinet agencies. For the
budget year that begins Oct. 1, spending would be held $7 billion
below current levels.
The measure also establishes a 12-member House-Senate committee
that will be charged with producing up to $1.5 trillion in
additional deficit cuts over a decade. If the panel succeeds,
Congress will be required to vote on the recommendations without
possibility of changes.
If the panel deadlocks or fails to produce at least $1.2
trillion in deficit savings, then spending cuts are to take effect
across much of the federal budget. The Pentagon, domestic agencies
and farm subsidies would be affected, as would payments to doctors
and other Medicare providers. But individual benefits under Social
Security, Medicaid, Medicare and programs for veterans and federal
retirees would be exempt.
At the same time, the debt limit would rise by at least another
$1.2 trillion, and perhaps - depending on the results of the
committee's work - as much as $1.5 trillion.
Additionally, the legislation requires both the House and Senate
to vote on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
The measure also increases funding for Pell Grants for
low-income college students by $17 billion over the next two years,
financed by curbs on federal student loan subsidies.
The result of weeks of negotiations and harsh arguing, the final
result represented a product of divided government that gave
neither side everything it wanted. Leaders in both parties were
emphatic on that point.
"As with any compromise, the outcome is far from satisfying,"
conceded Obama in a video his re-election campaign sent to millions
of Democrats. In a tweet, the president was more positive: "The
debt agreement makes a significant down payment to reduce the
deficit - finding savings in both defense and domestic spending."
But there were critics within his own party in Congress.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi declined to say how she
would vote - a clear indication of displeasure with the deal Obama
had made. Asked if the votes were there for passage, she replied,
"You'll have to ask the speaker. He has the majority."
Boehner rebutted that all congressional leaders had signed off
the deal and shared in responsibility for lining up the votes for
it.
After Biden met with rank-and-file Democrats, he conceded,
"They expressed all their frustration."
He said the deal "has one overwhelming redeeming feature" -
postponing the next debt limit battle until 2013 and putting the
current fight behind. "We have to get this out of the way to get
to the issue of growing the economy," he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said his constituent mail was
running 8-1 against the bill, but he did not say how he intended to
vote.
"This is a tough sell I think for most Democrats, a tough
sell," he said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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