Obama, Reid and McConnell (Charles Dharapak/AP)The Senate on Tuesday voted to raise the nation's debt ceiling, saving the government from potentially defaulting on its debts and concluding a heated, protracted battle in Washington.
Senators voted 74-26 to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling this afternoon following last night's House passage of the bill. The legislation increases the debt ceiling by $2 trillion and is offset by federal spending cuts, some of which will be directed later this year by a select congressional committee.
Several conservative GOP senators objected to the final compromise, casting the vote as fiscally irresponsible, and several Senate Democrats joined Republicans voting in opposition.
Opposing GOP senators included: Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Utah's Orrin Hatch, who faces fierce 2012 criticism from the right and potential attacks from the tea party.
Many Republicans in the House and Senate believed the final compromise's spending cuts were not sufficient. Meanwhile some Democrats balked at the decision to keep tax breaks for the wealthy and the bill's lack of revenues.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), speaking on the Senate floor prior to the vote, cast the final compromise as the best possible option for his party and a mere starting point. "Our view was we get as much spending cuts as we could from a government we don't control," McConnell said.
McConnell's statements echoed those issued yesterday by his House counterparts. "This measure is not perfect or the way we would have done it if we were in charge, but it will finally begin to change the way Washington spends taxpayer dollars," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Monday. "As is the case with any major change, these things will take time and this is the first significant move—of many to come—to turn Washington around."
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that his party "settled for less than we wanted" as did the GOP. "But that's the way legislation works. That's the way compromise works."
And Reid fired a parting shot at the tea party from the Senate floor just before the vote, blaming tea party-aligned lawmakers for holding up the negotiations.
The U.S. Treasury said Aug. 2 was the day by which the debt ceiling must be raised in order for the government to avoid defaulting on its obligations.
The bill now heads to the president for his signature.
Obama hailed the bill's passage in a Rose Garden speech following the Senate vote, but strongly chastised Congress for the contentious negotiations that led to today's events.
"We've seen in the past few days that Washington has the ability to focus when there's a timer ticking down and when there's a looming disaster," Obama said. "It shouldn't take the risk of default, the risk of economic catastrophe to get folks in this town to work together and do their jobs."
The president implored lawmakers to use the American people as their motivation as they work in the months ahead on job creation and in efforts to grow the economy.
He added that spending cuts alone cannot close the deficit.