This was a vote on a motion to end debate (known as a “cloture motion”) on legislation that would have raised the U.S. debt limit—which literally refers to the amount of money the U.S. can legally be in debt--by $2.7 trillion. The bill would also cut federal government spending by $2.2 trillion. Of the total $2.2 trillion in budgetary savings, $1 trillion was the result of a planned reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq an Afghanistan. The bill also placed limits (or “caps”) on discretionary spending (spending that does not include Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) through 2021, which accounted for most of the remaining $1.2 trillion in savings.
This bill, authored by Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), would have effectively raised the debt ceiling through 2012. Republican proposals on the debt ceiling had called for a short-term increase, which would have forced another vote on raising the debt limit before the 2012 elections.
[In previous years, Congress had voted to increase the debt limit with little controversy or fanfare, regardless of which party controlled the House, Senate, or the White House. This year—in 2011—House Republicans, who held a majority in that chamber, refused to raise the debt limit unless Democrats agreed to deep spending cuts. While most economists argued that defaulting on the nation’s debt could bring about an economic catastrophe, Republicans effectively held the raising of the debt limit hostage until Obama and Congressional Democrats agreed to make major concessions with respect to spending cuts.]
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) supported Reid’s proposal: “Majority Leader Reid's debt reduction package of $2.2 trillion in spending cuts is Congress's best chance to avoid default and prevent a disastrous credit-rating downgrade. Unlike the House plan, the Reid solution is an invitation to consensus….All American people want this solved now, with a fair solution and through the give-and-take of our representative government, not by some extra special vote but just vote it up or vote it down. I am confident that if we can work together, Congress will avert this looming, man-made economic calamity. It is late but it is not yet too late for Republicans and Democrats to come together, for the sake of our country, in fashioning a bipartisan solution to raise the debt limit, reduce our long-term debt, and give our economy the long-term foundation to prosper.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) also supported Reid’s bill: “ I think what we need to do is clear, and Senator Reid's proposal addresses it: No. 1, reduce spending. Let's get this deficit under control. Senator Reid's proposal does just that…Secondly, we cannot lurch into another round of this debate every few months. The president is right, and this bill reflects it, that we need to move this debate until after next year so our economy is strong again, and the next debt ceiling vote will be in 2013. Let's not face this again and again. America doesn't want to see this movie over and over.”
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) opposed the bill: “The plan the majority leader has offered uses budget gimmicks to avoid real spending cuts and gives the president a debt limit increase that, while politically expedient, fails to put our country on a workable path. It doesn't provide a way to assure any substantial cuts will be made. While it maybe makes some necessary spending cuts today, it does not provide us with relief from our long term challenges and does not put us in a situation where we would be forced to make the tough choices.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) also opposed Reid’s legislation: “Why are we in this fix? I hate to say it, but this is why, there is no doubt about it: The president said last week: ‘The only bottom line that I have is that we extend this debt ceiling through the next election, until 2013.’ Through the next election. It is all about him. It is about politics. It is about his desires, what he wants. That is not correct. This is about America, what is good for our country.”
The vote on this motion to end debate on the Reid’s debt bill was 50-49. Voting “yea” were 49 Democrats and 1 Republican. 45 Republicans and 4 Democrats voted “nay.” While a majority of senators voted “yea,”, a 60-vote majority is required to pass a cloture motion. Thus, this cloture motion failed. As a result, Reid’s bill never came to a final up-or-down vote. Thus, the Senate effectively killed legislation that would have raised the U.S. debt limit by $2.7 trillion and cut federal government spending by $2.2 trillion. Congress eventually did pass, however, different legislation that raised the U.S. debt limit by $2.4 trillion (to $16.7 trillion) through 2012, cut more than $900 billion from social programs and military spending, and created a commission to propose an additional $1.5 trillion in budgetary savings (either from spending cuts or tax revenue increases). President Obama then signed that measure into law.