WASHINGTON — The Louisiana delegation fractured Monday evening as the House of Representatives passed the debt and deficit agreement negotiated this weekend by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, joined Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, in opposing the House measure, which they said did not contain enough cuts.
Freshman Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, also voted against the plan because of what he considered a watered-down balanced-budget amendment provision.
“The legislation will solve this debt crisis and help get the American people back to work,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a news conference a few hours before the vote.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was far less effusive.
“I’m not happy with it, but I’m proud of some of the accomplishments in it,” she said.
The agreement passed the House by a vote of 269-161 with the three Louisiana Republicans being part of 66 party no votes.
The remainder of the Louisiana delegation’s members backed the measure though some expressed reservations.
The Senate is scheduled to vote on the measure Tuesday.
“It’s in the right direction,” U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, said. “It doesn’t have tax increases, and that’s a positive, and it carries us down the road a little bit closer to a balanced budget amendment and I think that’s good.”
“As the American people continue to care about the debt, I am confident this will be one of many steps to address our fiscal future,” U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said in a prepared statement.
Congress was asked to raise the $14.3 trillion national debt ceiling. Republicans balked, calling for budget cuts that would match any debt limit increase.
The measure would cut federal spending by at least $2.1 trillion over a decade and would not require tax increases. The U.S. debt limit would rise by at least $2.1 trillion, tiding the U.S. Treasury over through the 2012 elections.
Without legislation in place by the end of Tuesday, the Treasury would run out of cash needed to pay all its bills. Administration officials say a default would ensue that would severely damage the economy.
Beyond merely avoiding disaster, Obama and congressional leaders hoped their accord would reassure investors, preserve the United States’ AAA credit rating and begin to slow the growth in America’s soaring debt. In a roller-coaster day on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average surged, then sank and finally finished down for a seventh straight session but only slightly.
The legislation would immediately increase the debt limit by $400 billion, with another $500 billion envisioned unless Congress blocks it. At the same time, it would 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.
The measure also establishes a 12-member House-Senate committee that would be charged with producing up to $1.5 trillion in additional deficit cuts over a decade.
If the panel succeeds, Congress would be required to vote on the recommendations without possibility of changes. If the panel fails, then spending cuts are to 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. But individual benefits under Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and programs for veterans and federal retirees would be exempt.
“I would prefer to see our Armed Services Committee work with Appropriations to do that through a regular process rather than this joint committee,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, who voted for the measure.
The state delegation’s sole House Democrat, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, of New Orleans, said he supported the bill though he had problems with it.
Richmond also expressed concern about the legislation’s call for the committee. Any cuts to social programs will fall squarely on the state, Richmond said.
“It’s a tough deal for Louisiana,” Richmond said. “If you look at where we rank in health care and you look at where we rank in education and you look at where we rank in poverty, we depend a lot on the federal government.”
The Louisiana’s two U.S. senators already have staked out opposing positions.
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Louisiana, was the first senator on the floor Monday to criticize the agreement. The proposal does not include mechanisms to curb spending and stop debt increases, he said.
Vitter also believes the legislation lacked enforcement and any reductions that would be triggered could fall on defense spending and Medicare providers, he said. The bill does not appease credit rating agencies, Vitter said.
“We need to do better,” Vitter said. “We need to have some plan to balance the budget. This plan never balances. This plan has mountains of debt still building.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana will vote for the bill today in the Senate, she said. Landrieu would have liked to have seen the agreement contain tax revenues but said that issue may be handled by the committee.
“On balance, considering the economy has been held hostage, I’m going to vote to release the hostage and move forward in hopes we can get back to the main issue before us which is getting the economy revved up and creating jobs,” Landrieu said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.