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House easily passes debt-ceiling accord

August 01, 2011|By James Oliphant
  • House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) walks to the House floor to vote for the debt-ceiling bill.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) walks to the House floor to vote for… (Shawn Thew / European Pressphoto…)

With the nation on the razor’s edge of a government default, the last-ditch, bipartisan deal to raise the federal debt ceiling and slash the budget deficit cleared its largest hurdle Monday evening, as the Republican-controlled House easily passed the legislation by a 269-161 tally.

The Senate will vote at noon Tuesday. If it passes, the legislation would then go to President Obama's desk for signature and to avert a default, which the White House has maintained could have done catastrophic damage to the flagging economy.

Approval in the Senate is considered likely, as the unruly GOP caucus in the House had been viewed as most significant obstacle toward a resolution. "Tea party" conservatives spent much of the day bashing the bill, which would raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit in stages, along with comparably cutting the federal budget.

In a surprise, Rep.Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) returned to the House floor and cast her first vote since being wounded by gunman in Tucson in January. She voted in favor of the measure and received a rousing ovation.

Republicans, in the end, overwhelmingly supported the bill, withDemocrats evenly divided on the agreement.

After the accord was reached with the White House over the weekend, congressional leaders from both parties spent Monday selling the package to their rank and file—with outrage spilling out on all sides. Liberals said the White House had surrendered on entitlements, while conservatives worried the deal would allow for tax increases down the road.

The Republican leadership in the House lined up solidly behind the deal, with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) saying that it was time to put an end to the crisis, which has consumed business in Washington for weeks.

"My goal is to get this bill passed [and] signed into law to solve this debt crisis and get the American people back to work," Boehner said before the vote.

On the House floor, Boehner's lieutenants argued that the deal was a first step in controlling federal spending. “This is a down payment on the problem,” said Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee. “This is a huge cultural change for this institution.”

“Nobody on our side of the aisle wants to increase the debt ceiling. It’s not in our DNA,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas. "But we do believe you got to stay current on your bills."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), defending her choice to support the compromise on the House floor, said there were many reasons not to vote for the legislation, but she argued that the president had succeeded in securing a debt-ceiling increase through next year—and had protected Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security benefits from automatic across-the-board cuts should a bipartisan congressional panel fail to agree on cuts to reduce the deficit further.

"Please, my colleagues, if you are on the fence about this—I certainly have been,” Pelosi said, “please think of what could happen if we defaulted.”

The bill would raise the debt ceiling by just below $1 trillion, along with $917 billion in spending cuts. After that, the bipartisan committee would be charged with finding $1.5 trillion in cuts before Thanksgiving. If Congress fails to enact the cuts by the end of the year, the debt ceiling would be raised, along with the automatic reductions in spending.

Pelosi and the White House faced a revolt from angry progressives on Capitol Hill, who peppered Vice President Joe Biden with questions about the deal earlier in the day.

"I thought that the vice president made a strong case. And I think members are just trying to sift through all the information they’re receiving," Rep Elijah Cummings of Maryland said after the meeting with Biden. "And I think a number of the members are concerned that you have a small element of the tea party, which is at the far right, which is basically holding the Congress and the nation hostage."

Christine Mai-Duc of the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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