Nelson Stresses Centrist Process over Substance in Debt Debate

By Zayida Baker

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., voted on Tuesday, August 2, for the debt compromise put forward by President Obama and congressional leaders. It was enacted Tuesday afternoon.

The Budget Control Act raises the debt ceiling in two stages by up to $2.4 trillion total, which should fund government through the 2012 elections. It immediately allows $400 billion in fresh borrowing, then allows $500 billion more unless Congress vetoes it. This $900 billion is tied to $917 billion in cuts over the next ten years, mostly after 2012.

The second stage features a debt-limit increase between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion, equal to the amount of future spending Congress cuts later this year.

The bill creates a 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, drawn equally from the House and the Senate, with six members from each party. A majority must recommend at least $1.2 trillion in spending cuts to be approved by Congress, with an equal increase in borrowing authority if the cuts are passed, up to $1.5 trillion. If Congress does not pass cuts by December 23, 2011, then $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts, mainly to defense and Medicare-provider payments, kick in, and a balanced-budget amendment goes to the states for ratification.

Either way, the House and Senate must vote between September 30 and December 31, 2011, on a balanced-budget amendment—which Congress is not bound to pass unless the committee fails to produce enacted cuts—and the debt ceiling will reach at least $16.4 trillion by year’s end.

Despite bipartisan grumbling, the deal passed the House Monday, 269-161, with both parties’ support. Voting in favor were 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats, including leadership of both parties, such as Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. No Democrats had supported the House’s July 29 version of the bill; Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, John Conyers, D-Mich., Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., Barney Frank, D-Mass., James McGovern, D-Mass., Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif., among others, remained opposed to the final product.

The bill cleared the Senate Tuesday afternoon, 74-26, again with bipartisan support. Nelson was one of 45 Democrats voting “yes.” Others who agreed were Max Baucus, D-Mont., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Kent Conrad, D-N.D. Obama signed it within two hours.

In his public praise of the bill, Nelson emphasized compromise more than substance. He anticipated during an August 1 television appearance that it would “pass with huge, bipartisan majorities in the U.S. Senate.” He continued August 2 on the Senate floor, “Most of the members agree that gridlock doesn’t do anything to help the country, and especially the economy.” A July 28 press release summarizing constituent feedback was titled, “Most just want issue resolved.”

Significantly, Nelson serves on the Senate Budget Committee and chairs the Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility, which Democrats reinstated in February after disbanding it when they won the Senate five years ago. He has not always been so bipartisan: he opposed every debt-ceiling increase when Republicans ran the Senate “like a drunken sailor” and approved all but one after Democrats took control in January 2007, though Democrats’ rate of spending and borrowing has been much higher.

Pace Allen, of Daytona Beach’s Tax Tea Party, has had enough of spendthrift compromise: “It’s time to draw a line in the sand and stop the spending.” Most tea party leaders agree.

The Budget Control Act contains the largest debt-ceiling increase in American history. Now $14.5 trillion and 100 percent of GDP, the debt was $10.6 trillion when Obama took office in January 2009.

You may wish to contact
Sen. Nelson: (202) 224-5274

Zayida Baker covers Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Steve Southerland for Tea Party Patriots’ Government Accountability Project. She can be reached at

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