- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2011

Punctuated by the surprise return of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, House Republicans and Democrats united Monday to avert a debt crisis, pushing through an increase of up to $2.4 trillion in new borrowing authority, imposing instant spending limits and setting up another five months of debate over making even deeper cuts or raising taxes.

The 269-161 vote was more comfortable than many observers had predicted, and sends the bill to the Senate, where lawmakers were rallying behind the proposal and planning to vote Tuesday, just ahead of the deadline when the Treasury Department will no longer be able to prevent bumping up against the government’s $14.29 trillion borrowing limit.

Republicans said the vote ensures the national conversation remains focused on spending cuts, and said they didn’t violate any of the principles they laid out. Democrats, meanwhile, said they managed to fight off the push for cuts to Social Security and Medicare — at least for now.

The deal marks the first time that spending cuts have been attached to what usually has been routine business of raising the borrowing limit.

“The big win here for us, and for the American people, is there are no tax hikes,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

Monday’s vote ends a bruising few months for House members, who have fought bitterly over the size and shape of spending cuts. All sides say they want to bring down record deficits and bring the debt under control, but beyond that there is little agreement.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and President Obama, either in person or through their go-betweens, traded offers and plans for weeks, and at one point appeared poised to accept a bigger deal totaling some $4 trillion in deficit reduction, including tax increases and changes to entitlement programs such as Social Security or Medicare.

But opposition from both political ends scuttled that bargain and spurred 10 days of frantic activity that culminated late Sunday in final legislation.

The House floor vote had been in doubt, with many Democrats withholding their votes as they watched to see where the tally would lead. But that all changed with Mrs. Giffords‘ arrival on the floor to cast her first vote since January, when she suffered a catastrophic head wound during the Tucson, Ariz., shooting at a town-hall meeting she was hosting.

Her appearance prompted a tremendous applause that ran for minutes. As the clapping continued, Democrats who had been holding out cast their votes, and the tally shot way past the majority mark guaranteeing passage.

Mrs. Giffords, wearing short hair and glasses, voted in favor of the debt increase.

Overall, Democrats split their votes with 95 in favor and 95 opposed, while Republicans were overwhelmingly supportive, 174-66.

Running 74 pages, the bill amounts to a $32.4 billion debt increase per page, for a total possible debt increase of $2.4 trillion.

On the cuts side, it instantly imposes discretionary spending limits for the next decade, for savings of $917 billion, and sets up a congressional committee that would be charged with finding an additional $1.5 trillion in savings or new revenue.

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