Pres­i­dent Obama made a deal.

It was a nail-​​biter up until the final vote, but on Mon­day, August 1, just hours before the Treasury-​​imposed dead­line, the House passed leg­is­la­tion allow­ing for an increase in the debt ceiling.

The House voted 269–161 to pass the bill, once called “An Orig­i­nal Bill to Make a Tech­ni­cal Amend­ment to the Edu­ca­tion Sci­ences Reform Act of 2002″ but now gut­ted and reborn as the Debt Con­trol Act of 2011. (Roll call votes at the embed­ded link.) As of this writ­ing, the Sen­ate has sched­uled a vote for noon Tues­day August 2, but pas­sage is vir­tu­ally certain.

As I watched the drama unfold, first from an unfa­mil­iar hotel room and then in an air­port wait­ing area, I found myself ask­ing two questions.

1. How did this come to pass? What were the House whips doing?

2. What’s in the deal?

So, here’s the deal.

By noon Mon­day, Nate Sil­ver was sug­gest­ing that the bill might fail in the House by a nar­row mar­gin, 212–219. Minor­ity Leader Pelosi, who as a smart politi­cian was keep­ing her pow­der dry, and her second-​​in-​​command, Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoyer, both threw their full sup­port behind the bill in the debate on the House floor. In just three hours, that brought the whip count to 225 yeas (Sil­ver) or 252 yeas (The Hill). Nate thought the 252 an over-​​estimate, but in the event, it was an under-​​estimate.

There may have also been a groundswell because of the return of Rep. Gabrielle Gif­fords (D-​​Arizona), who re-​​entered the House to thun­der­ous applause and voted with the yeas. Clearly, the Democ­rats pulled out all the stops to make this happen.

What fas­ci­nated me was that rar­ity of recent days, where the two whips, on either side of the aisle, must have been in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion to ensure the mea­sure had a suf­fi­cient num­ber of yeas. Mea­sures like PPACA had only one party’s sup­port, so there was no need (for exam­ple) for the Demo­c­ra­tic whips to know what the Repub­li­can whips were doing, since they’d assume the minor­ity party was agin what­ever was pro­posed. Sim­i­larly, in the 112th Con­gress, the Repub­li­can whips have not needed to con­sult with Demo­c­ra­tic whips. But this process must have required a sort of bipar­ti­san coöper­a­tion so that dis­as­ter could be averted. Clearly, many of the Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans were released to vote their con­science, or at least vote strate­gi­cally. Repub­li­cans voted 174–66 in favor of the bill (slightly under The Hill’s final whip count), while Democ­rats split evenly at 95–95 (out­per­form­ing The Hill’s final whip count by 23 votes). The Tea Party Cau­cus mem­bers claimed before the vote that they would not approve a debt ceil­ing increase regard­less of the cir­cum­stances. How­ever, Tea Party Cau­cus mem­bers voted 32–28 in favor of the bill, indi­cat­ing that a major­ity never really intended to kill the hostage in the first place. It was a bluff.

What’s in the pro­posal? The bill text may be found here.

For Her­man Cain and oth­ers who don’t like read­ing leg­is­la­tion, for­mer Biden advi­sor Jared Bern­stein has blogged on what the bill means. There is a $2.4 tril­lion promise of reduc­tions, but that’s over a ten-​​year span and I would con­sider such pro­jec­tions highly spec­u­la­tive. For fis­cal 2012, which begins Octo­ber 1, 2011, the promised reduc­tion is a pal­try $21 bil­lion ($22 bil­lion by some esti­mates, still not much). In 2013, a big jump to a $157 bil­lion cut is man­dated. Over the ten-​​year period, these cuts com­pound to over $2 tril­lion. These larger cuts are to be found by a bipar­ti­san com­mis­sion which has yet to be constituted.

There’s some­thing for every­one to hate. For the Tea Party, there’s the specter of tax increases, or at least the expi­ra­tion of Bush-​​era tax cuts, which are likely to be rec­om­mended by the bipar­ti­san com­mis­sion formed by the bill. For the left, there’s the feel­ing that Pres­i­dent Obama totally capit­u­lated to hostage-​​takers and pre­dic­tions of a com­plete and utter destruc­tion of the econ­omy. Key­ne­sian econ­o­mists con­tinue to insist that the econ­omy may be dri­ven into a sec­ond reces­sion because of the reduc­tion of eco­nomic stim­u­lus. If this hap­pens, the bill could increase rather than decrease the deficits by reduc­ing rev­enue even more than spend­ing. Bloomberg, not nor­mally a left-​​leaning orga­ni­za­tion, also hates the deal. The Her­itage Foun­da­tion really hates the auto­matic trig­ger provision.

Who Got Obama’s Goat?

Glenn Green­wald, who is well to the left of the Pres­i­dent but a polit­i­cal prag­ma­tist at heart, gives what I believe is a pretty good run­down of why the debt ceil­ing deal was not a capit­u­la­tion by Pres­i­dent Obama. As he says,

Obama’s so-​​called “bad nego­ti­at­ing” or “weak­ness” is actu­ally “shrewd nego­ti­a­tion” because he’s get­ting what he actu­ally wants (which, shock­ingly, is not always the same as what he pub­licly says he wants).  In this case, what he wants — and has long wanted, as he’s said repeat­edly in pub­lic — are dras­tic spend­ing cuts.  In other words, he’s will­ing — eager — to impose the “pain” Cohn describes on those who can least afford to bear it so that he can run for re-​​election as a compromise-​​brokering, trans-​​partisan deficit cut­ter will­ing to “take con­sid­er­able heat from his own party.”

The bill estab­lishes a bipar­ti­san com­mis­sion, six Democ­rats and six Repub­li­cans (a total of 12, with six from the House and six from the Sen­ate), which will rec­om­mend the $1.2 tril­lion in promised cuts. If they fail to do so, then an auto­matic trig­ger cuts defense spend­ing by about $50 bil­lion (“defense” means Depart­ments of Defense and Home­land Secu­rity under so-​​called Func­tion 050) and non-​​defense dis­cre­tionary spend­ing by $50 bil­lion. Med­ic­aid, Social Secu­rity, Vet­er­ans ben­e­fits, and other entitlement/​social pro­grams would be exempt from these cuts.

Like the ear­lier Defense Base Realign­ment and Clo­sure (BRAC) Com­mis­sion, the “Super-​​Congress” rec­om­men­da­tions would be sub­ject to an up-​​or-​​down vote in both houses of Con­gress, with­out any pos­si­bil­ity of amendments.

I’m guess­ing that the “Super-​​Congress” will nec­es­sar­ily use the Simpson-​​Bowles Com­mis­sion rec­om­men­da­tions as a start­ing point, given the lim­ited amount of time avail­able to them and the impor­tance of the task. No one wants to see the auto­matic trig­ger take a meat cleaver to the bud­get. I think that’s what Pres­i­dent Obama intends, as well. I tend to side with those that think he got the best deal pos­si­ble, given the weak hand he was dealt.