WASHINGTON (TND) — President Joe Biden celebrated bipartisan accomplishments in passing the debt ceiling deal bill in his first primetime address to the nation from the Oval Office Friday night.
Speaking prepared remarks from behind the resolute desk, the president marked the crucial passage of the budget deal he negotiated with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as the deadline to avoid a default on the nation’s debts rapidly approached like an oncoming locomotive headed for a crash.
That’s why I’m speaking to you tonight, to report on a crisis averted and what we’re doing to protect America’s future,” Biden said. “Passing this budget agreement was critical: the stakes could not have been higher.
The president took time to lay out more solidly the consequences of failing to pass the bill and reaching default would have meant for the nation, after weeks of economists and officials saying the effects would be unknown but also a catastrophe.
“Nothing would have been more catastrophic,” he said of the consequences of the potential default. “Our economy would have been thrown into recession; retirement accounts for millions of Americans would have been decimated; eight million Americans would have lost their jobs.”
Default would have destroyed our nation’s credit rating, which would have made everything from mortgages to car loans to funding for the government much more expensive,” he added, also stipulating it would have taken “years” to dig the country out of that financial hole.
While leadership from both parties in both chambers of Congress praised their own side, giving their representatives credit for the final package, the president took a moment to give specific praise to McCarthy, his counterpart as the highest-ranking Republican in Washington, D.C.
I want to commend Speaker McCarthy,” he stated. “He and I, and our teams, we were able to get along, get things done. We were straightforward with one another; completely honest with one other; respectful with one another.
Biden also took a moment to criticize naysayers in both parties who insist that compromise and bipartisan agreement like was reached in the “Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023” could not occur in today’s age of hyper-partisan politics.
“When I ran for president, I was told the days of bipartisanship were over and that Democrats and Republicans could no longer work together, but I refused to believe that,” he said. “American can never get into that way of thinking the only way American democracy can function is through compromise and consensus.”
In another rare move for rhetoric from his party around the passed deal, Biden praised the spending cuts included – most Democrats have alluded to how the president kept the cuts from being allegedly “worse” – as a means of continuing to bring down the deficit.
The president's speech was the most extended commentary from the Democratic president on the compromise. He largely remained quiet publicly during negotiations, 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.
Fast action was vital if Washington hoped to meet next Monday's deadline, when the Treasury Department has said the U.S. will start running short of cash to pay its bills.
"There is a gravity, as you all can imagine, of this moment," press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday, on why Biden was using the occasion to deliver his first address to the nation from behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. "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 echoed Jean-Pierre’s point later in his remarks, noting how “the final vote in both chambers was overwhelming” and “far more bipartisan than anyone thought was possible.”
In both chambers, more Democrats backed the legislation than Republicans, but both parties were critical to its passage. In the Senate the tally 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.
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 pipeline that many Democrats oppose. Some environmental rules were modified to help streamline approvals for infrastructure and energy projects — a move long sought by moderates in Congress.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates it could actually expand total eligibility for federal food assistance, with the elimination of work requirements for veterans, homeless people and young people leaving foster care.
The legislation also bolsters funds for defense and veterans, cuts back some new money for Internal Revenue Service and rejects Biden’s call to roll back Trump-era tax breaks on corporations and the wealthy to help cover the nation’s deficits. But the White House said the IRS' plans to step up enforcement of tax laws for high-income earners and corporations would continue.
The agreement also imposes an automatic overall 1% cut to spending programs if Congress fails approve its annual spending bills — a measure designed to pressure lawmakers of both parties to reach consensus before the end of the fiscal year in September.
The president said he will sign the Fiscal Responsibility Act into law Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report