Unless something goes awry this morning, at high noon the U.S. Senate should be ratifying a House amendment to crisis legislation that will, for a couple of years, at least, put behind us talk of the U.S. government defaulting on its debts.
After the amendment passed the House on Monday evening, the Senate said it would take up the measure at noon, the passage pretty much a foregone conclusion. Estimates were that at least 35 of the 47 Republican senators would vote in favor of it and it's hard to believe that enough Democratic senators would vote against to doom a bill that President Obama has said he'll sign. The measure passed the House with heavy support from Republicans -- though not from Georgia, where six of eight GOP legislators gave it a thumbs down -- and evenly split support from Democrats, though, again, Georgia bucked the trend with four of the state's five Democratic legislators supporting it.
While those at the edges -- both the right and the left -- were far from happy with the results, the final deal was tilted toward Republicans, largely because the newest conservative members of the GOP held fast to their cut-spending philosophy.
The Associated Press summarized what the bill will do once it passes the Senate today and gets Obama's signature:
-- It will cut federal spending by at least $2.1 trillion over a decade.
-- No tax increases will be required.
-- The U.S. debt limit would rise by at least $2.1 trillion, tiding the Treasury over through the 2012 elections. It will immediately increase the debt limit by $400 billion, with another $500 billion envisioned unless Congress blocks it.
-- It will cut more than $900 billion over 10 years from the day-to-day operating budgets of Cabinet agencies. For the budget year that begins Oct. 1, spending would be held $7 billion below current levels.
-- It establishes a 12-member House-Senate committee that will be charged with producing up to $1.5 trillion in additional deficit cuts over a decade. If the panel succeeds, Congress will be required to vote on the recommendations without possibility of changes.
-- If the 12-member panel deadlocks or fails to produce at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings, then spending cuts will take effect across much of the federal budget. The Pentagon, domestic agencies and farm subsidies would be affected, as would payments to doctors and other Medicare providers. Individual benefits under Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and programs for veterans and federal retirees would be exempt.
-- It requires both the House and Senate to vote on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
-- It increases funding for Pell Grants for low-income college students by $17 billion over the next two years, financed by curbs on federal student loan subsidies.
Will this bill get the federal government's fiscal house in order? No, but it will slow down the speed at which the government churns through money. And it does put into play some provisions that may force Congress to do something it has been loathe to do regardless of who's in power -- start to live within its means.
We can only hope this 11th hour compromise -- one that could have been reached six months ago -- will reassure U.S. creditors and the markets. It will be up to U.S. voters to ensure that Congress and the White House follow through.