House Passes Debt Ceiling Bill; Gabrielle Giffords Votes
Senate vote is expected as soon as Tuesday
WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2011— -- The House of Representatives decisively passed a bill tonight to raise the nation's debt ceiling, capping months of negotiation between House Republicans and President Obama.
And Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, made her first appearance on Capitol Hill since being shot in her district in January. She voted in support of the deal that would raise the debt ceiling.
"Gabrielle has returned to Washington to support a bipartisan bill to prevent economic crisis," read a tweet from her office account as the vote was starting.
Congressional leaders breathed a collective sigh of relief today after convincing members of congress to support the deal, which was made public only on Sunday night to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit and avert U.S. default.
The final vote was 269-161, much more support than had been anticipated. 175 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted for the compromise.
The compromise legislation would increase the government's borrowing power by up to $2.4 trillion through 2013, and impose nearly $1 trillion in spending cuts in 10 years, most coming out of the non-defense discretionary budget.
A new special congressional committee (nicknamed the "super committee") would be required to recommend additional deficit reduction -- that would likely include changes to entitlement programs and the tax code -- of up to $1.5 trillion by Thanksgiving. Under the deal, Congress would have to pass the recommendations into law by December or face the "trigger" of stiff, automatic cuts.
The Senate could consider the deal as early as Tuesday.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said he will no longer be able to pay some bills starting midnight between Tuesday and Wednesday.
But passing a bill through the House was the real hurdle and it should face an easier road in the Senate.
"As my son would say, we just got to suck it up, buttercup," said Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, of the need to support the bill. "At the end of the day, we're going to do it, because it is the right thing to move forward. It's going to be tough, and we'll get criticism for things we could have done, but we are where we are and we need to move forward."
After meeting with his Republican colleagues to convince them to vote for the deal, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters that the deal, however imperfect, should be passed.
"It gives us the best shot we've had in the 20 years I've been here to build support for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution to put the fiscal handcuffs on this Congress that are sorely needed," Boehner said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Boehner's chief deputy, sought to mollify Republican members frustrated at the level of spending cuts by comparing changing government spending to turning around an aircraft carrier -- it doesn't happen immediately.
And while many Republican lawmakers voted against the bill, they did not actively opposing the deal.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said on ABC News' "Top Line" that he would vote no, even though the process has been a win for Republicans.
"The fact that we're now having a serious discussion about debts where we're talking about cutting spending, that there's no tax increases that we're talking about right now, that's a huge -- at least moral -- victory, I think for a lot of fiscal conservatives that were concerned about the financial health of this country," he said.
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