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Most area members of U.S. House vote for debt-ceiling deal

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacom, Aug. 2, 2011 - Shortly before they cast their votes, Missouri and Illinois members of the U.S. House, Republicans and Democrats, began to weigh in publicly about the tentative bipartisan deal between House and Senate leaders to raise the nation's debt ceiling by Tuesday's deadline for possible default.

Their views -- and votes -- were mixed. But in the end, most voted for it. The bill passed in the House 269-161.

In Missouri, only three opposed the deal: Republicans Todd Akin of Wildwood and Vicky Hartzler of Harrisonville; and Democrat Emanuel Cleaver, D- Kansas City.

(Click here for the entire House roll call.)

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, was among the majority who voted for the bill. "No one likes everything in this bill, but the country needed to raise the debt limit," he said. "That's why I voted for it. ... I would have much preferred a larger package of spending cuts, new revenues and real tax fairness."

Clay added, "We can't balance this budget on seniors, working people and children. We also need to increase revenues."

U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, also backed the deal, saying this afternoon that he had reached the conclusion that the framework "protects vital programs," such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Carnahan told 2,000 listeners in a telephone town hall before the vote that he remained concerned that the deal does not call for any additional tax revenue. He reaffirmed his support for ending the Bush tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

During the forum's Q and A session, several elderly listeners raised concerns about Social Security. Asked one woman: "If the checks don't go out, how are we supposed to live?"

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau and dean of Missouri's congressional delegation, was the first of the state's House members to declare her support for the deal. She chairs the centrist Tuesday Group. "Most of us in the Tuesday Group at least will support the framework," she said in an interview on MSNBC. "I think the tough stuff is going to come in the later votes when we have the $1.2 trillion [recommendations] from the committee."

Emerson continued: "Everybody can agree that this is not a perfect package and nobody is thrilled about it. On the other hand, this is the first time in my lifetime, in 75 times that the debt ceiling has been raised, that we have ever talked about cutting (spending) at the same rate that the debt ceiling is increasing. So that is a significant achievement."

Said Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield: "The Budget Control Act of 2011 might not be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. It has real spending cuts, tough spending controls, a balanced budget provision and no tax increases. The simple truth is that in just seven months, the debate in Washington has changed from 'How much can we raise taxes?' to 'How much can we cut spending?' "

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, said he voted for the deal because it represents "an important step forward on the long road to get our fiscal house in order. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to cut spending and reform our nation's budget in order to jump start the economy and lift the finanical burden that has been placed on future generations."

He added that Republicans should be proud because "we have used our majority in one half of one of the three branches of government to secure an agreement that stays true to our conservative principles: This legislation cuts more spending than it increases the debt ceiling, caps future spending, advances the cause of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, and averts a default by the United States -- all without increasing taxes."

Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, backed the bill for its initial stab at budget-cutting. He added, "Moreover, this bill is good for small business because it addresses our out-of-control debt without any job-killing tax increases, which will help provide much-needed certainty for our nation's most robust job creators."

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, announced shortly before the House vote that he will support the deal. "This is a major achievement that brings Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate together in support of this agreement," Shimkus said. "I have always said we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem. This plan limits our spending for the next 10 years. In addition, this plan does not raise taxes. The situation we are in today can be blamed on both parties, but this agreement ties the debt ceiling increase to reduced spending."

Also supporting the bill: U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville. "I voted yes on the bill before us tonight to save the country from an economic disaster," he said. "It is by no means a perfect agreement, but importantly, senior citizens will get their Social Security checks and Social Security and Medicare benefits are protected as our budget process moves forward. I will continue to work for a balanced approach to addressing our deficit and debt."

Opponents fear defense cuts

In opposition, Akin, R-Wildwood and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, cited his concern about potentially severe defense cuts. The congressman is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

"While Speaker Boehner and others have been negotiating in good faith, I am concerned that this new proposal may actually make it less likely that we can address the central problem of radical deficit spending," Akin said. "While this new proposal has a balanced budget amendment as one option for a future debt ceiling increase, I do not believe that the president or Democrats in Congress will be willing to support a balanced budget amendment while there are other paths available to them that allow for continued deficit spending.

"The plan before us today fails to address the problem at hand, and it threatens to severely degrade our national defense with a trillion dollars in cuts to our military," Akin continued. "For these reasons, I am opposing this bill."

Hartzler offered similar concerns. "This agreement strips $350 billion from the base defense budget and has the Obama administration bragging that this is, 'the first defense cut since the 1990s,' " she said. "The package also leaves the door open to the possibility of $500 billion in defense cuts down the road. This is unacceptable. The simple truth is that the U.St. Constitution requires the federal government to do only a handful of things -- the most important of which is to provide for our national defense."

Senators Highlight Differences While Signaling Support

Both states' U.S. senators indicate some qualms, but nonetheless all four have come out in favor of the deal.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., appeared Sunday morning on NBC's "Meet the Press," offering up the Democratic case for additional revenue in any deficit-reduction deal.

Her comments came just hours before a tentative bipartisan deal was struck -- calling for cuts but no new revenue -- to raise the nation's debt ceiling by Tuesday's deadline for possible default.

"We need those people who want compromise," McCaskill said. "We want those people who want a balanced approach."

The tentative deal, announced Sunday night, did not include any additional revenue from tax hikes or the elimination of existing tax breaks. But it also did not include a mandate for a balanced budget amendment, as sought by some tea party-aligned Republicans.

"This agreement is a down payment on the larger task of reforming government and putting America on strong financial footing," said McCaskill. "The unwillingness of Republicans to compromise prevented a historic grand bargain. However, this agreement will offer confidence to the business community and families, and will hopefully allow Democrats and Republicans to find a common sense compromise without being held hostage."

Republican Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said, "I'm pleased that Senate and House leaders have agreed on a framework that cuts spending and does not raise taxes, and I look forward to meeting with my Senate Republican colleagues tomorrow to discuss this agreement in further detail."

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is a member of the Senate's "Gang of Six'' that had been negotiating for months on a deficit-reduction deal. He also was part of the president's Bipartisan Fiscal Commission, which issued its findings last December.

"Tonight's agreement prevents a default on our nation's debt and will give our economy the certainty it needs as it continues to recover from a historic recession," Durbin said. "This deal is not perfect, nor the deal many of us would have made ourselves, but in the end and after weeks of partisan differences, both sides have come together and compromised to avoid an economic catastrophe.

"This agreement will begin the process of reducing our deficits and ensuring our long-term recovery. But over the next weeks and months, we must do all that we can to make certain that a balanced and fair process follows that protects the most vulnerable in our society."

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said, "The best way to achieve economic stability, reassure our allies and strengthen financial markets is by tackling our unsustainable spending trend. This deal is a balance of immediate cuts and a promise of long-term reforms, coupled with a strong backstop. I am optimistic this bipartisan plan will pass with strong support from both parties and we can prevent an American default."

Sunday morning, McCaskill's televised comments reflected what she had heard during Saturday's telephone calls to her office.

She told "Meet the Press" host David Gregory, "This fight has not been about nothing. This hasn't just been political theater. There's a philosophical difference here on the Hill between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, and it's pretty simple."

Republicans "have voted to keep giving taxpayer checks to Big Oil, while they voted to convert the Medicare system to vouchers," the senator said, referring to the budget proposal crafted by House Budget chairman Paul Ryan, R- Wisc.

"Now, that doesn't compute for us. How can you be more willing to push public money to the most profitable corporations in the history of the world at the same time that you're willing to dismantle Medicare? That's where we have a fight here."

McCaskill reaffirmed her earlier statements calling for some changes in Medicare so that wealthy Americans would have to pay more for their coverage. But the senator also emphasized her support for other spending cuts, including in defense, reflecting her involvement in a bipartisan group looking at ways to curb spending.

On the campaign trail

Former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who is challenging Akin for the GOP Senate nomination against McCaskill in 2012, was critical of McCaskill's comments. "She's voted for every single reckless spending increase Barack Obama has asked for and now wants us to believe she's really for fiscal responsibility," Steelman said.

On Monday, Steelman declared that she's also against the debt-ceiling deal.

"I want to make it clear -- we have to honor and pay our debt obligations," Steelman said in a statement. "However, to agree to a deal that essentially abdicates power to a 'super committee' to come up with budget cuts and tax increases is not good for the people of this country whose voice is heard through their own elected representatives. No amendments to this committee's proposal will be allowed -- that's ridiculous. What self-respecting lawmaker would agree to give away their power to represent their constituents?"

She also complained that the deal "includes minimal cuts in this year's budget, and it basically forfeits the goal of a balanced budget or reducing the size and scope of government, both of which are essential to the long term health of this economy and to the credit markets. It opens the door for huge cuts in defense spending and increases the effective tax rates by closing loopholes without lowering tax rates."

Steelman also reaffirmed her Saturday statements before fellow conservatives in St. Louis to attend the national Smart Girl Summit.

No appetite for Satan sandwich

Meanwhile, Cleaver, had become a media sensation since he blasted the deal in an interview with MSNBC. Cleaver, head of the Congressional Black Caucus, initially had called the proposal a "sugar-coated Satan sandwich."

"We lost this early on," Cleaver said Sunday. "I came back to Washington at the beginning of the year thinking we were going to create jobs, and we allowed the national discourse to change from jobs to the debt, and so right now there's very little we can do."

"If I were a Republican, I would be dancing in the streets," he continued. "I don't have any idea what the Republicans wanted that they didn't get. And I can't tell you anything that Democrats got out of this deal, except that we're probably going to prevent the nation from crashing."

Cleaver's "Satan sandwich" comment has generated so much attention that someone set up a separate Twitter account for the phrase.

And in the end, Cleaver voted against the deal.

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