By Zayida Baker

Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., bolstered his tea-party credentials Monday, August 1, standing against the debt deal struck by President Obama and congressional leaders. It became law 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 of 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 is to 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.

Southerland announced hours before the House’s August 1 vote that he rejected the compromise. He wrote, “I believe that any serious plan for spending reform must begin with guaranteed congressional approval of a Balanced Budget Amendment and spending cuts large enough to eliminate the threat of a crippling downgrade in America’s credit rating.”

In this and other matters, tea party leader Stan Willis, founder of Citizens for Responsible Government/Tallahassee, believes that Southerland has generally “held the line as well as any [politician].”

Southerland also questioned the joint committee’s powerful role and the threat of defense cuts if the process fails. Congressional leaders have not yet determined the committee’s composition, and one Republican defection could hand Democrats a majority needed to propose, for example, raising taxes. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will choose the Republican members.

Despite Republican and Democrat grumbling, the deal passed the House Monday, 269-161, with bipartisan support. Voting against were 95 Democrats and 66 Republicans, including Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Ron Paul (R-Texas), Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Steve King (R-Iowa), Connie Mack (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.). All 22 Republicans who had opposed the House’s July 29 version of the bill, including Southerland himself, still opposed the final product.

The bill cleared the Senate Tuesday afternoon, 74-26, again with bipartisan support. The 26 nays, however, were mostly Republican; among them were Jim DeMint (S.C.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), and Mike Lee (Utah). Obama signed it within two hours.

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
Rep. Southerland: (202) 225-5235
Sen. Rubio: (202) 224-3041
Speaker Boehner: (202) 225-0600
Leader McConnell: (202) 224-2541

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