WASHINGTON – Arizona’s congressional delegation voted overwhelmingly Monday to oppose a bill to raise the debt limit, which nonetheless passed the House by a comfortable margin and could be taken up by the Senate Tuesday.
The Senate vote would come just hours before the nation is expected to hit the debt ceiling, an action that some have said could put the country in default for the first time in its history if no action is taken.
The vote by Arizona’s House members bucked party lines, with only Reps. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Tucson, and Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, voting for the Budget Control Act of 2011.
All six of the state’s other House members opposed the bill, which passed on a vote of 269-161, a wider margin than experts had anticipated.
The House vote also bucked party lines: Republicans voted 174-66 in favor and Democrats voted 95-95, with three Democrats not voting.
The bill would increase the U.S. debt limit by at least $2.1 trillion through the end of 2012, up from the current ceiling of $14.3 trillion.
In exchange, it would impose limits on discretionary spending in coming budgets and would cut federal spending by $2.4 trillion over the next decade. It also requires a congressional vote on a constitutional balanced budget amendment by the end of the year.
The cuts and debt increases would be phased in through a multistep process. The first round of $917 billion in savings includes $420 billion in decreased defense spending, which angered some opponents.
Another part of the bill calls for the creation of a special joint committee of Congress that will be required to recommend more deficit reduction steps — up to $1.5 trillion worth — by Thanksgiving. Congress would have to vote the committee’s proposals up or down by the end of the year.
If the bill is not approved by the Senate and sent to the president before Wednesday, some fear it could put the country in default, which in turn could lead to a falling dollar, rapid increases in interest rates and shakier markets.
The compromise bill had members of both parties in a sullen mood. Republicans don’t like cuts in defense spending and the absence of a balanced budget. Democrats are upset by the domestic spending cuts and the lack of tax hikes on wealthy Americans.
In a key compromise for Democrats, benefits from entitlements like Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and veteran’s benefits will not be subject to immediate cuts.
“All take and no give … is not a compromise. We will stand in opposition to it,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, before the vote. “We’re trapped in this tea-party agenda. They won, and they should be able to deliver the votes they need to pass what is essentially their package.”
But Gosar, the lone Arizona Republican voting for the bill, called the Budget Control Act a “milestone of progress” even though “it is far from perfect.” He said it is a step in the right direction, even if it does not move far enough in that direction for everyone’s liking.
“The current bill is a change in direction. But we cannot stop this ‘supertanker of debt’ tonight, in one vote,” Gosar said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Monday that he will support the bill when it reaches the Senate Tuesday. Aides to Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., could not be reached to comment on his vote.
Nick Newman is a reporter for Cronkite News Service.