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Debt and spending deal picks up momentum in Senate

By Andrew Taylor

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Aug. 1 2011 12:02 p.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — The White House and congressional leaders worked Monday to align lawmakers from both parties behind their formula for averting a financial meltdown and halting the government's prolific spending habits. Despite resistance from both liberals and conservatives, momentum appeared to be building in support of the compromise deficit-reduction plan.

In an apparent show of confidence, leaders in the House said they planned to bring the plan to the floor for a vote Monday afternoon. Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., said there would be an hour of debate before moving to a vote.

In the Senate, where one senator can hold up action, Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was hoping to get agreement to allow a vote Monday evening. "We need to send this to President Obama as soon as we can."

A member of the Republican leadership in the Senate predicted at least 30 GOP votes. "Maybe 35 will support it in the end. There will be some who will pull back," Sen. Mike Crapo, the deputy Republican whip, told reporters, as climactic votes approached in both the House and Senate on the long-sought spending plan.

Leaders in both chambers were meeting with their rank-and-file to promote the package, and President Barack Obama sent out a video message to sell Democrats on the plan. "This has been a long and messy process," he said. "As with any compromise, the outcome is far from satisfying."

Obama was also doing debt-related tweeting. "The debt agreement makes a significant down payment to reduce the deficit — finding savings in both defense and domestic spending," he said in one.

"We'll know over the next two to three hours," said House freshman Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., when asked if House Speaker John Boehner had the votes in the House, where conservatives have been more resistant to the compromise.

Reid opened the day's session in the Senate by declaring the deal shows that the often-dysfunctional Senate can come together when it counts. "People on the right are upset, people on the left are upset, people in the middle are upset," he said. "It was a compromise."

Crapo's assessment came as Vice President Joe Biden, who played an instrumental role in successful weekend efforts to hammer out an accord, went to Capitol Hill to sell the plan in separate meetings with House and Senate Democrats.

Relief around the world was indisputable, with Asian shares on Monday enjoying one of the best sessions in weeks. The advance continued in Europe. Wall Street opened higher, but faltered on a report that a key manufacturing index had dropped sharply in July.

Whatever momentum could be claimed for the deficit-reduction plan, Congress still has precious little time to avert a potentially devastating default on U.S. obligations. And there was little dispute that the endgame product contained plenty to offend lawmakers of both parties, and tea party sympathizers as well.

Sen. John McCain conceded as much, saying he'd have to "swallow hard" to vote for it because of cuts in defense spending. But the Arizona Republican said lawmakers had little choice in the face of the specter of default.

Fellow Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he was a no vote. "Simply stated, it locks us into more debt, bigger government and most devastating of all, a weakened defense infrastructure at a time when we face growing threats."

Another House Republican, Michael Turner of Ohio said he was not ready to endorse the package as he left a closed-door meeting of House GOP lawmakers. Turner is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and potential cuts to defense spending could be an issue among some Republicans.

Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, said she was undecided because of concerns about cuts to rural hospitals and home health care as well as defense. "I want to avoid the kind of hollowed-out military we saw after Vietnam," she said.

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