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Congress joins hands, prays to get through fiscal cliff; but more issues looming

Congressman Dave Reichert says members of Congress joined hands in prayer during the fiscal cliff agreement negotiations. (AP Photo/file)

Congress’ excruciating, extraordinary New Year’s Day approval of a compromise averting a prolonged tumble off the fiscal cliff went down to the twelfth hour and had some members clasping hands in prayer says Washington Congressman Dave Reichert.

“There was a moment where one member stood up and asked us to say the Lord’s Prayer and hold hands and we did,” Reichert tells KIRO Radio’s Ross and Burbank Show.

Reichert says he’s truly excited they came to an agreement. But many say the passage also lays the groundwork for future battles between the two sides over federal spending and debt.

The deal reached in Congress, which President Barack Obama plans to sign quickly, blocked big income tax increases on most Americans. But it extended the deadline for deep mandatory spending cuts for only two months. And it did nothing to deal with raising the nation’s borrowing limit, despite Obama’s request.

The debt limit, set by Congress, is now $14.3 trillion, a ceiling the government officially hit on Monday.

The Treasury Department says it will take “extraordinary measures” to keep paying the government’s bills, but only until sometime in February or March.

“The debt ceiling and the spending questions will both come together in a couple of months,” says Reichert.

Before returning to Hawaii for vacation, Obama warned Republicans against using a vote on the debt ceiling to try to win concessions on spending cuts. He asserted he wouldn’t negotiate “with Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills they’ve already racked up through the laws they have passed.”

“The debt ceiling discussion could be one of the leverages that is used if the president doesn’t want to come to the table and talk about spending,” which Reichert says is the real issue. “Hopefully the president and congress can come together.”

“I heard him [President Obama] say over the past couple of days that he is open to discussing reform in Medicare, social security and spending, and if he does that then we aren’t going to have this serious end of the twelfth hour discussion relating to the debt ceiling and spending.”

Reichert says working in a divided government can sometimes be frustrating, but it’s the way our founding fathers designed it, “to keep the checks and balances.”

“My position has always been we need to work together,” says Reichert. “This is about America. It’s about the hard working people in America and we better get past this political crap to put it bluntly and find some solutions to the problems that we face get this country back on track.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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