President Joe Biden addressed the nation in a prime-time speech Friday after Congress averted an economically disastrous default with just days to spare by passing legislation to raise the nation’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling.
The president, speaking from behind the Resolute Desk in his first Oval Office address, stressed that “unity” had made it possible.
“When I ran for president, I was told the days of bipartisanship were over,” he said. “That Democrats, Republicans could no longer work together. I refused to believe that because America can never give into that way of thinking.”
Biden touted the deal he made with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as a win for American families and proof of his ability to compromise to keep the nation on track themes he’s using in his 2024 reelection campaign.
“Essential to all the progress we’ve made in the last few years is keeping the full, faith, and credit of the United States and passing a budget that continues to grow our economy and reflects our values as a nation,” he said. “That’s why I’m speaking to you tonight. To report on a crisis averted and what we are doing to protect America’s future. Passing this budget agreement was critical. The stakes could not have been higher.”
After nail-biting negotiations, both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed a bill this week that suspends the government’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling.
Biden said to preserve U.S. economic progress it was critical to keep the country’s full faith and credit in tact. “The stakes could not have been higher,” Biden said.
The president, who is running for re-election, noted other bipartisan bills he has signed and offered praise to McCarthy, the speaker of the House of Representatives, who was his primary negotiating partner.
McCarthy, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, was one of 147 Republicans who voted, unsuccessfully, to overturn the 2020 election that Biden won.
“We were able to get along, get things done,” Biden said. “Both sides operated in good faith.”
Overall, the 99-page bill restricts spending for the next two years and changes some policies, including imposing new work requirements for older Americans receiving food aid and greenlighting an Appalachian natural gas line that many Democrats oppose. Some environmental rules were modified to help streamline approvals for infrastructure projects.
The legislation also bolsters funds for defense and veterans, cuts back new money for Internal Revenue Service agents and rejects Biden’s call to roll back Trump-era tax breaks on corporations and the wealthy to help cover the nation’s deficits. It imposes automatic overall 1% cuts if Congress fails approve its annual spending bills. The tally was 46 Democrats AND INDEPENDENTS and 17 Republicans in favor; 31 Republicans along with four Democrats and one independent who caucuses with the Democrats opposed.
The vote in the House was 314-117. In the Senate it was 63-36, including 46 Democrats and independents and 17 Republicans in favor, 31 Republicans along with four Democrats and one independent who caucuses with the Democrats opposed.
“It protects the core pillars of my Investing in America agenda that is creating good jobs across the country, fueling a resurgence in manufacturing, rebuilding our infrastructure, and advancing clean energy,” as well as programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, Biden said in the statement. “It protects my student debt relief plan for hardworking borrowers. And it honors America’s sacred obligation to our veterans by fully funding veterans’ medical care.”
Much of Biden’s speech on Friday struck a similar tone by highlighting accomplishments during his administration, including passage of the infrastructure law and legislation to increase production of computer chips and keep the U.S. competitive with China, the world’s second largest economy.
Biden’s remarks were the most detailed comments from the Democratic president on the compromise he and his staff negotiated. He largely remained quiet publicly during the high-stakes talks, a decision that frustrated some members of his party but was intended to give space for both sides to reach a deal and for lawmakers to vote it to his desk.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday that Biden was using the occasion to deliver his first address to the nation from behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office because “he just wanted to make sure that the American people understood how important it was to get this done, how important it was to do this in a bipartisan way.”
Biden brokered the deal with McCarthy after promising that he would not negotiate over the debt ceiling, a posture he maintained even as the leaders hashed out a plan to slash the federal budget. The cuts angered members of both parties, with some Republicans insisting they were not severe enough, while Democrats argued they went too far.
Looming over the talks was the rapidly approaching threat of economic catastrophe as the government warned that it would soon run out of money to pay its bills.
Fitch Ratings, a top credit rating agency, which put the U.S. on negative watch last week, said Friday that it is keeping the federal government’s credit rating at a perfect, but will keep it on negative watch through the third quarter of this year, noting “steady deterioration in governance over the last 15 years.”
In response, Treasury Department spokeswoman Lily Adams noted that the debt ceiling bill passed with “a broad bipartisan majority of both chambers,” calling it a “fiscally responsible” measure that “will continue to meet all of our commitments.”
“The Treasury market remains the safest, deepest and most liquid market in the world,” Adams added.
Last month, Biden cut short an overseas visit to return to the table in Washington as the clock wound down.
Throughout the fraught talks, Biden weighed using his powers to raise the government’s borrowing limit unilaterally by invoking the 14th Amendment, a move that would have relied on an untested legal theory but that some Democrats have urged the president to seriously consider.
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