(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — President Joe Biden addressed the nation in a prime-time speech Friday after Congress averted an economically disastrous default with just days to spare by passing legislation to raise the nation’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling.
The president, speaking from behind the Resolute Desk in his first Oval Office address, stressed that “unity” had made it possible.
“When I ran for president, I was told the days of bipartisanship were over,” he said. “That Democrats, Republicans could no longer work together. I refused to believe that because America can never give into that way of thinking.”
Biden signed the bill into law Saturday.
“I just signed into law a bipartisan budget agreement that prevents a first-ever default while reducing the deficit, safeguarding Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and fulfilling our scared obligation to our veterans. Now, we continue the work of building the strongest economy in the world,” Biden tweeted Saturday.
Biden touted the deal he made with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as a win for American families and proof of his ability to compromise to keep the nation on track — themes he’s using in his 2024 reelection campaign.
“Essential to all the progress we’ve made in the last few years is keeping the full, faith, and credit of the United States and passing a budget that continues to grow our economy and reflects our values as a nation,” he said. “That’s why I’m speaking to you tonight. To report on a crisis averted and what we are doing to protect America’s future. Passing this budget agreement was critical. The stakes could not have been higher.”
In noting how the deal came together, he said no one got everything they wanted but still acted to stave off the worst-case scenario: a default that would have likely triggered a recession and caused millions of jobs to be lost.
“I know bipartisanship is hard, and unity is hard,” he said. “But we can never stop trying. Because in the moments like this one, the ones we just faced, where the American economy the world economy is at risk of collapsing, there’s no other way, no matter how tough our politics gets, we must see each other not as adversaries but as fellow Americans.”
Reiterating one of his key lines from his inaugural address, he urged Americans to “stop shouting, lower the temperature and work together to pursue progress.”
The Fiscal Responsibility Act is the result of months of back-and-forth between Biden and McCarthy. It lifts the debt ceiling through Jan. 1, 2025, in exchange for some cuts to federal spending.
Biden’s signing of the bill Saturday puts an end to weeks of anxiety that the nation would nose-dive into economic turmoil by not being able to pay all its bills, including Social Security or Medicaid benefits, on time and in full for the first time in history.
In his Oval Office address, Biden notably commended McCarthy and the GOP and White House negotiating teams for being “completely honest and respectful with one another,” as well as praising the work of other top congressional leaders.
“They acted responsibly to put the good of the country ahead of politics,” Biden said, adding that “both sides kept their word.”
Earlier, when asked by ABC News’ Elizabeth Schulze why Biden chose the Oval Office for the speech, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said he wanted to meet the “gravity” of the moment.
As Biden worked behind-the-scenes to hammer out the deal, he at times frustrated Democrats — members of the party’s progressive wing, especially — who worried he was giving in too much to Republican demands.
At one point, several in his party urged him to go it alone and use the 14th Amendment to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling, an idea Biden ultimately rejected in this situation, but one he said he would study.
“I have been clear that the only path forward is a bipartisan compromise that can earn the support of both parties,” he said earlier this week. “This agreement meets that test.”
The final product did give both Democrats and Republicans something to celebrate: the White House touted the protection of key priorities and legislative accomplishments while McCarthy sold it to his caucus as much-needed reining in of government spending.
“I wanted to make history,” McCarthy said as he took a victory lap after the House passed the bill. “I wanted to do something no other Congress has done, that we would literally turn the ship and for the first time in quite some time, we’d spend less than we spent the year before. Tonight, we all made history.”
Moderates from both parties gave the bill its necessary stamp of approval in the House and Senate, but in the end more congressional Democrats voted for the bill than Republicans.
“Democrats are feeling very good tonight,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., triumphantly said after Thursday’s vote. “We’ve saved the country from the scourge of default.”
Schumer contended Democrats “beat back the worst of the Republican agenda” including deeper spending cuts that would’ve dismantled parts of the Inflation Reduction Act, taken people off federal aid and blocked Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.
Biden on Friday also celebrated that the bill leaves Social Security, Medicaid, veterans benefits and other priorities untouched before turning to a list of other priorities he wants to get done next, including more deficit reduction and raising revenues by making wealthy Americans “pay their fair share.”
“I’m gonna be coming back and with your help, I’m going to win,” he said.
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