The U.S. Senate, after impassioned speeches on a bill that would raise the debt ceiling and cut the federal deficit, passed the measure Tuesday on a 74-26 vote.
Senators who supported the bill said it wasn't the "best possible bill, but was the best bill possible" as the nation's borrowing ability threatened to end Tuesday.
"This bill does begin the process of changing behavior," Sen. Roy Blount, R-Mo., said during debate leading up to the vote.
Recalling a sentiment observed by a former senator, Blount said the bill "is not the best possible bill, but it's the best bill possible."
The measure, awaiting President Obama's signature, would give the U.S. Treasury an immediate $400 billion in additional borrowing authority. The plan raises the $14.3 trillion debt limit $2.1 trillion to $2.4 trillion in three steps.
"This bill does not solve the problem, but it at least forces Washington to admit that it has one," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. "And it puts us on a path of recovery … in restoring balance. We have changed the debate; we have headed in right direction."
While the world witnessed a "lot of political wrangling" during the past few weeks, observers also saw lawmakers reach a historic decision, Senate Majority Harry Reid said.
"The product we have here is one of compromise," Reid said. "There's principally one winner here and that's the American people."
He also chastised Tea Party activists in Congress for delaying work on the debt ceiling until the last meeting.
The legislation will provide the economy with the stability "it so desperately needs," Reid said.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Ind-Conn., said negotiators faced a "very big challenge" and lawmakers' views on it would depend on "whether we see glass half full or the glass half empty.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he couldn't support the bill, even though it had several aspects "conservatives could hang their hats on."
However, "I won't be able to support it because it doesn't sufficiently provide us with a solution that the markets are demanding."
He said the threat of a downgrade in the United States' credit rating "comes from a failure of will."
Obama "needs to accept responsibility for an economy that has worsened under his leadership," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said when announcing he would vote no.
Paul said the nation wouldn't go into default Tuesday, but it would default in "a more insidious" manner later because the dollar would be devalued as more money is needed to repay the U.S. debt.
The debate is "about the future of our country. It's about saving ourselves from ourselves," he said.
The compromise measure passed the House 269-161 Monday, with 95 Democrats joining 66 Republicans in voting no.
The measure, awaiting Obama's signature, would give the U.S. Treasury an immediate $400 billion in additional borrowing authority. The plan raises the $14.3 trillion debt limit $2.1 trillion to $2.4 trillion in three steps.
In addition to the $400 billion released upon Obama's signature, $500 billion would be available in the fall, unless two-thirds of both chambers vote to prevent it, and a final increase would come early next year, giving the U.S. Treasury enough borrowing power to pay bills into early 2013, after the 2012 presidential election
The measure would cut $917 billion in spending over 10 years, starting with a $21 billion in the fiscal year that starts in October.
The bill also would create a congressional committee charged with closing the deficit an additional $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion. If the panel deadlocks or Congress doesn't accept its plan, a prearranged set of spending cuts would kick in, including steep cuts to defense and entitlement programs poised as a guillotine to prod the committee and Congress to act.
"The theory was that the consequences of inaction must be so severe" that no responsible lawmaker would dare not act," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said, speaking against the proposed series of cuts-in-waiting. "This should never had been agreed to by members of Congress and never should have been proposed by the president."
He said he supported the bill because "we have to start somewhere on the path to fiscal sanity," despite his dislike of the triggers included.
Reid said he hoped the spirit of compromise would extend beyond the past few days.
"It's time for Congress to get back to the people's business," Reid said, "There's nothing more important than that."