House Passes Debt Ceiling Bill; Gabrielle Giffords Votes

Senate vote is expected as soon as Tuesday

August 1, 2011, 7:08 PM

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.

The compromise's fine print has plenty of critics on both sides of the aisle, leaving leaders of both parties scrambling to sell the package to their respective members and secure the votes they need to get it passed.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report this morning suggesting the debt framework would trim government spending by $2.1 trillion over 10 years.

Many Democrats and liberal groups are angry that the spending cuts are not coupled with tax increases, as Obama had promised in seeking a "balanced approach," while others have decried a lack of immunity for social service programs from spending cuts.

"This is a Satan sandwich," the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said in an interview with ABC News. "There's no question about it because there's nothing inside this sandwich that the major religions of the world would say deals with protection for the poor, the widows, the children. It's not in here."

The White House dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to Capitol Hill to meet with House and Senate Democrats to lobby for their support.

"Is this the deal I would have preferred? No," Obama said at the White House last night. "But this compromise does make a serious down payment on the deficit reduction we need, and gives each party a strong incentive to get a balanced plan done before the end of the year."

Meanwhile, many Republicans have also voiced disapproval of the deal, some opposing any increase in the debt limit altogether, with others pledging only to support it if a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution is passed first.

"It isn't the greatest deal in the world, but it shows how much we've changed the terms of the debate in this town," Boehner said on a Sunday night conference call with House Republicans, according to GOP officials. He urged his colleagues to support the deal because it's "all spending cuts. The White House bid to raise taxes has been shut down."