Obama announced the deal following a weekend of intense negotiations among congressional leaders of both parties — including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell — to head off a potentially disastrous first-ever default by the federal government expected Tuesday.
In exchange for allowing a vote to increase the federal debt limit to avoid default, congressional Republicans demanded steep cuts in federal spending. Obama and congressional Democrats tried to hold out for some form of revenue increases, such as closing tax loopholes for corporate jet owners and other wealthy special interests.
In the end, the deal included no such revenue increases, and would reduce the federal budget deficit only through spending cuts — about $1 trillion in spending over the next 10 years.
The result, the president noted in his Sunday remarks, would be the lowest level of annual domestic spending since the Eisenhower administration.
Obama tried to soften the blow of the impending cuts by saying that the reduced spending level “still allows us to make job-creating investments in things like education and research.
“We also made sure that these cuts wouldn’t happen so abruptly that they’d be a drag on a fragile economy,” he adds.
Although cuts to Social Security and Medicaid are exempted as part of the deal, Medicare could face cuts. Also, there was no extension of unemployment benefits included, which means jobless Americans could face being cut off at the end of the year.
Clearly, though, those on the left are not pleased with the package.
Pelosi, leader of House Democrats and usually a stalwart ally of Obama’s, only remarked: “We all agree that our nation cannot default on our obligations and that we must honor our nation’s commitments to our seniors, and our men and women in the military. I look forward to reviewing the legislation with my Caucus to see what level of support we can provide.”
With Pelosi so noncommital, it could well be up to GOP Speaker John Boehner to push the deal through the House with the votes of Republican lawmakers, who have been recalcitrant.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was even more forceful in his denouncing the deal.
“This deal trades peoples’ livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals, and I will not support it. Progressives have been organizing for months to oppose any scheme that cuts Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, and it now seems clear that even these bedrock pillars of the American success story are on the chopping block. Even if this deal were not as bad as it is, this would be enough for me to fight against its passage,” he says.
“This deal does not even attempt to strike a balance between more cuts for the working people of America and a fairer contribution from millionaires and corporations,” Grijalva adds. “The very wealthy will continue to receive taxpayer handouts, and corporations will keep their expensive federal giveaways. Meanwhile, millions of families unfairly lose more in this deal than they have already lost. I will not be a part of it.”
The House and Senate are expected to vote on the deal Monday.
In the Senate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the left-leaning independent who has long pushed for more sacrifices from the wealthiest Americans, was loud in his opposition to the deal, too.
“The Republicans have been absolutely determined to make certain that the rich and large corporations not contribute one penny for deficit reduction, and that all of the sacrifice comes from the middle class and working families in terms of cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, [home-energy assistance], community health centers, education, Head Start, nutrition, [farm assistance], affordable housing and many other vitally important programs,” he says.
“I cannot support legislation like the Reid proposal which balances the budget on the backs of struggling Americans while not requiring one penny of sacrifice from the wealthiest people in our country. That is not only grotesquely immoral, it is bad economic policy.”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.