The White House and congressional leaders have reached an agreement to raise the federal borrowing limit and avoid a default on the national debt. The plan centers around a $2.4 trillion spending cut over 10 years overseen by a bipartisan committee. If Congress fails to approve the panel’s proposals, a so-called "trigger" mechanism would be enacted to automatically slash federal spending. Unveiling the deal Sunday night, President Obama said the agreement was borne out of a need to compromise.
President Obama: "Now, is this the deal I would have preferred? No. I believe that we could have made the tough choices required — on entitlement reform and tax reform — right now, rather than through a special congressional committee process. But this compromise does make a serious down payment on the deficit reduction we need and gives each party a strong incentive to get a balanced plan done before the end of the year. Most importantly, it will allow us to avoid default and end the crisis that Washington imposed on the rest of America."
In a major victory for Republicans, the debt deal includes no means to increase government revenues such as a tax hike on the wealthy. That could effectively kill any chances of raising taxes on the rich, as Republicans on the bipartisan deficit panel are unlikely to approve them. During the talks, President Obama reportedly offered to reduce Medicare spending by slowly raising the eligibility age to 67 from the current 65, and to cut Social Security by altering the cost-of-living formula used to calculate benefits.
Congressional leaders are presenting the plan to their caucuses today in the hopes of a vote before Tuesday’s deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling. The top Democrat in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said she cannot guarantee House Democrats will support the deal.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: This bill has a long future, nine years, 10 years, whatever it turns out to be, has ramifications even beyond that decade. So, we’ll all have to take a look. And we all may not be able to support it, or none of us may be able to support it, but we will wait and see, and we’re open to what comes down because, again, the stakes are very high here."
Both the Progressive Caucus and the Black Caucus have rejected the debt deal. In a statement, Progressive Caucus leader Raúl Grijalva of Arizona said: "This deal does not even attempt to strike a balance between more cuts for the working people of America and a fairer contribution from millionaires and corporations. I will not be a part of it." Speaking on the Senate floor, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders denounced the agreement.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: "Despite Democratic control over the White House, despite Democratic control over the Senate, despite overwhelming opposition from the American people, a small minority of the members of the Republican-controlled House have successfully pushed an extreme right-wing agenda onto the American political landscape. It is an ideology which believes that despite the fact that the rich are getting richer, the middle class is shrinking, and poverty is increasing, all—all of the burden for deficit reduction should rest on working people."
The Congressional Black Caucus is urging President Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment affirming the validity of the national debt as a means to bypass Congress. In his speech on the Senate floor, Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders also backed the 14th Amendment proposal.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: "The Constitution is very clear in saying that the debts of the United States, quote-unquote, 'shall not be questioned.' The president swears an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and many constitutional scholars believe that the 14th Amendment gives the president the authority and responsibility to pay our debts regardless of the dysfunctionality of the U.S. Congress."
Relief efforts continue in the Horn of Africa amidst a famine threatening the lives of millions of people. UNICEF Emergency Programs Deputy Director Dermot Carty said immediate intervention is needed to avoid an escalation in deaths.
Dermot Carty: "We have been warning for many years that the situation is especially fragile there. Take the weather conditions, multiply that by the ongoing conflict, add in the problems associated with rising food prices because of food shortages, you have a very bad situation. I think we need to continually focus on what the issue is, and the issue is that children are dying and will continue to die, unless we make sufficient interventions in the immediately short term through the delivery of humanitarian assistance."
The Gaddafi regime has condemned NATO for a deadly bombing on the headquarters of Libyan state television in Tripoli. Khaled Bazelya, the head of Libya’s English network, said the attack killed three people.
Khaled Bazelya: "Three of our colleagues were murdered, and 15 injured, while performing their professional duties as Libyan journalists. NATO admitted the crime, citing 'silencing Gaddafi propaganda machine' as a justification for such murderous act. We are the employees of the official Libyan TV. We are not a military target."
At least 142 people have been killed over the weekend in Syria as government forces continue a crackdown on protesters. Most of the violence has come in the flashpoint city of Hama, where at least 100 people were killed Sunday alone. Syrian troops have also moved into the gas and oil hub of Deir ez-Zor, killing at least 25 people and wounding 65 others. Witnesses report the government has used tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft weapons against Syrian protesters. Critics of President Bashar al-Assad say the crackdown was timed to crush dissent on the eve of Ramadan, with Assad reportedly fearing the holy month will draw international sympathy from Muslims praying around the world. Nearly 1,600 Syrians citizens have reportedly been killed since protests against Assad erupted in March.
A pair of U.S. hikers jailed for two years in Iran could finally be seeing a verdict in their case. The attorney for Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal said he expects a decision will be handed down in the next week.
Masoud Shafiee: "Keeping in mind that they have been detained for two years, now I wish for the trial to come to an end, and if they will sentence them, their sentence will not exceed the two years they have already served. I am very hopeful because there is no reason for the continuation of their detention."
Sunday marked the two-year anniversary of Bauer and Fattal’s arrest while hiking near the Iran-Iraq border.
News Corp. executive James Murdoch is expected to be called again before the British Parliament to answer questions over whether he lied to lawmakers during his first appearance last month. A former editor at the News of the World and News Corp.’s top legal officer have challenged Murdoch’s testimony about how much he knew about the use of phone hacking by journalists working at newspapers owned by his father, Rupert Murdoch.
The News of the World is now being accused of hacking into the phone of the mother of a young girl abducted and murdered in July of 2000. British authorities say the paper’s former editor, Rebekah Brooks, provided Sara Payne with a phone as she campaigned for a sex offender law named after her slain daughter, also named Sarah. Payne had vocally supported the News of the World when a phone-hacking disclosure in another case forced the paper’s closure last month.
Thousands of people rallied on Saturday in support of public education and teachers’ unions in Washington, D.C. The "Save Our Schools" rally was organized to criticize the Obama administration’s education reform policies, which have emphasized initiatives including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Among the speakers to address the crowd was the actor Matt Damon.
Matt Damon: "As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me. So the next time you’re feeling down or exhausted or unappreciated or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself being called overpaid; the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything, please, please, please know that there are millions of us behind you."