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Published October 16 2013

ND delegation supports Senate debt deal

BISMARCK – North Dakota’s U.S. senators both said Wednesday they supported the deal reached between Senate leaders to end the partial government shutdown and extend the nation’s debt limit, but neither was completely satisfied with it.

Congress passed the measure Wednesday night. The Senate voted first, a bipartisan 81-18. That cleared the way for a final 285-144 vote in the Republican-controlled House about two hours later on the legislation.

The legislation would permit the Treasury to borrow normally through Feb. 7 or perhaps a month longer, and fund the government through Jan. 15.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, wanted the debt limit extended beyond the Feb. 7 date agreed upon by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, saying it would give more certainty to financial markets.

Heitkamp said one of her greatest frustrations with the debt limit discussion was what she called “amateur economists” downplaying the potential impacts of the nation defaulting on its debt, which she said would have had “catastrophic results.”

She said a bipartisan group of 14 moderate senators that included her and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., crafted a document that “kind of formed a template” for the deal reached by Senate leaders. Congress now “has a chance to act responsibly,” Heitkamp said.

“I think that some of the people who have been the worst obstructionists may now have had their day, and everybody has said, ‘OK you had your chance, and now the adults are taking charge,’ ” she said.

Sen. John Hoeven said his position was “the shorter, the better” when it came to extending the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority.

“I want to keep people’s feet to the fire in focusing on savings and reforms, so I was pushing for a shorter timeline to make sure we do that,” he said.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., released a statement Wednesday night after the measure cleared the House.

“This is a short-term solution which will finally bring both sides to the table to further correct our federal deficit,” he said. “It is far from ideal, however we cannot let the pursuit of perfection be the enemy of improvement. I am still hopeful we can grow the economy by reducing the debt and deficit through the broader budget negotiation this plan requires.”

Hoeven, who said he also was involved in negotiations with other senators, House members and GOP leadership, lamented the fact that the debt ceiling agreement didn’t include more savings and reforms. But he was pleased that the budget conference committee and short-term extension will keep the pressure on to address underlying budget issues.

Still, the damage caused by the 16-day shutdown has been done, Heitkamp said, citing not only the cost to government and the nation’s economic recovery but also the “opportunity costs” in lost time that could have been spent working on the farm bill, housing finance reform and other important issues.

“The great irony is this all began as a pushback on debt and deficit, and we spent $160 million a day that we didn’t have on nothing,” she said.

While the deal included only one change to the Affordable Care Act, in requiring income verification for those seeking subsidies to buy insurance coverage, Hoeven said Republicans in the House and Senate will continue to work to scrap the health care law because they don’t believe it’s the right approach.

“I believe we should repeal and replace Obamacare,” he said. “But understand, in the debt ceiling agreement, that’s where we really have to focus on the budgetary issues.”

Readers can reach Forum News Service reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.