The Senate voted 74-26 on Tuesday to approve a deficit reduction package that had already been passed by the House, capping a rancorous and deeply partisan legislative dogfight that had the country teetering on the brink of default.
The Senate had already rejected measures passed in the House that would have tied a raise in the debt ceiling to deep cuts and an amendment mandating a balanced budget. The Democratic-controlled Senate rebuffed those attempts as unrealistic and nakedly partisan demands from a Republican House influenced by the fiscal hard line taken by Tea Party members.
The deal now heading to President Barack Obama's desk consists of two phases: an initial cut of some $900 billion in agency spending, followed by an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction to be determined by a bipartisan panel of 12 lawmakers. If that panel cannot reach a deal, or if Congress vetoes their proposal, substantial cuts to defense and domestic spending would automatically occur.
Few were satisfied with a compromise that drew detractors on both sides of the aisle, including the president himself. Republicans charged that it did not go far enough in reducing spending, while Democrats denounced the plan for relying on budget cuts without finding new sources of revenue. The final deal could still include new sources of revenue, and debate over reaching the $1.5 trillion target will likely address the imminent expiration of the Bush era tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest earners.
While the House approved the package by a wider than expected margin of 269 to 161, 66 Republicans voted against the proposal and 95 Democrats voted in favor of the bill.