WASHINGTON — “Yes” votes from Hawaii Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye helped pass the Budget Control Act of 2011 in a 74-26 vote Tuesday morning.
That means that all four members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation backed the debt deal that President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday afternoon. Obama’s signature means the government immediately has access to $400 billion to pay its bills, with another $500 billion available next month.
The House passed the bill Monday by a vote of 269-161.
Inouye and Akaka both voiced deep concerns about the act, primarily because it does not require any tax increases, which Democrats say are necessary to protect the economy and vital government services.
“I have reservations on it because I felt that all Americans should contribute their fair share including the wealthy,” Akaka told Civil Beat in an interview after the vote. “There should be more about the revenues and revenue building.”
But tax increases are not explicitly banned, either. Obama has said he will be “fighting for” principles that would require revenue growth in the coming months. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who said she begrudgingly supported the debt deal, expressed optimism about Democrats getting their way on taxes.
“The thing that makes it palatable to some of us is the fact that we understand, though the Republicans may say otherwise, that Bush tax cuts are up for grabs,” Hanabusa told Civil Beat in an interview Monday. “In other words, it would take an affirmative vote to extend them in any way. So that sort of puts us in the driver’s seat. I haven’t heard anyone who says that they’re going to be extended. If nothing happens, they expire.”
Still, members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation were lukewarm at best in their reaction to the debt deal. All four members explained their “yes” votes as a way to avoid government default. Before a deal was finalized, Inouye asked Hawaii residents for forgiveness for the contentious, drawn-out negotiations on Capitol Hill, and told Civil Beat he felt almost embarrassed to be a member of the United States Senate.
After voting in support of the Budget Control Act, Inouye released a statement saying it was not a deal that he took “any great pride in,” and slammed the GOP for its hard-nosed approach to avoiding tax increases.
“This proposal contains no new revenue. But what can we expect?” Inouye said. “We were negotiating with a group of people who would see the country default before they backed off their campaign promises.”
Inouye could not be reached for an interview Tuesday.
After the August congressional recess, debt reduction will be in the hands of a special 12-person congressional committee that will be established under the new act. The committee will be charged with crafting a plan to slash $1.5 trillion in government spending over a decade. That plan will then face an up-or-down vote from the rest of Congress. If lawmakers fail to come to an agreement, automatic cuts seen as undesirable by both Democrats and Republicans will be triggered.
“There can be no amendments,” Akaka said. “The committee will be recommending an up and down vote. We are anxiously awaiting to see who’s going to be on the committee and how the committee is going to deal with these priorities that we have. And, of course, really hoping that we have something in there that will help to create jobs for our people.”
But a spokesman for Inouye implied that the committee — which has already earned a “debt super committee” nickname — may not have as much power over government spending as some have suggested.
“The framework created by this deal is just that, a framework,” said Peter Boylan in an email to Civil Beat Tuesday. “There are not line item cuts in the bill… The bill creates spending caps for all programs and then the Appropriators on both sides of the Hill go to work. Senator Inouye is chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations so he will be eye deep in the negotiations to ensure government spending stays within the framework of this spending agreement.”
In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Obama made it clear that there is much to be accomplished on the nation’s road to economic recovery. The enormity of the task ahead may be the one thing that deeply divided officials in Washington agree on.
“The bill doesn’t solve the problem but it forces Washington to admit that it has one,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor Tuesday. “In the end, we’re back to where we started.”
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