Debt deal: House votes to raise debt limit, cut spending

      WASHINGTON (AP) - Slowly, with a sense of purpose, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords entered the House chamber Monday night to cast her first vote since she was shot in the head last January, a dramatic return that surprised colleagues. The chamber erupted in loud, sustained applause as Democrats enveloped Giffords with hugs and kisses.

      Only minutes remained on an historic vote on the debt-limit bill. Most lawmakers were staring at the vote board when Giffords made her way through the door on the right side of the chamber. Few knew in advance that she would appear.

      Democrats crowded around her as she mouthed "thank-you's." She used one hand to greet some, the other by her side. Her hair was dark and closely cropped, and she wore glasses. In the House chamber, colleagues, stunned and joyful, made their way to greet Giffords.

      "It means so much to our country ... to witness the return of our colleague who is the personification of courage, of sincerity, of admiration throughout the country," Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California told the House.

      Her return is "a triumph of the first magnitude and we are all so very proud of her," said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.

      Giffords cast her vote - "yes" - and left the House chamber and the Capitol.

      "Gabrielle has returned to Washington to support a bipartisan bill to prevent economic crisis," a message from her Twitter account read. Another message after the vote said, "The Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight."

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      The #Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight.less than a minute ago via HootSuite Favorite Retweet ReplyGabrielle GiffordsRep_Giffords

      "I have closely followed the debate over our debt ceiling and have been deeply disappointed at what's going on in Washington," Giffords said in a statement release later.

      "I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics. I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy," she said.

      "It was one of the most thrilling moments for all of us to see this real heroine return to the House," Pelosi said, "and to do so at such a dramatic time."

      Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., a friend of Giffords, said she found out that the congresswoman would cast her vote from a 2 a.m. text message she received from Kelly.

      "It's an incredibly important vote, pivotal for the country. And she felt it was really important that she be here to represent her district," said Wasserman Schultz, who added that Giffords had been reviewing the legislation.

      House OKs debt deal

      Representatives voted 269-161, a scant day ahead of the deadline for action. But all eyes were on Giffords, who drew thunderous applause as she walked into the House chamber unannounced and cast her vote in favor of the bill.

      A final Senate sign-off for the measure is virtually assured on Tuesday. Aside from raising the debt limit, the bill would slice federal spending by at least $2.1 trillion, and perhaps much more.

      "If the bill were presented to the president, he would sign it," the White House said, an understatement of enormous proportions.

      After months of fierce struggle, the House's top Republican and Democratic leaders swung behind the bill, ratifying a deal sealed Sunday night with a phone call from House Speaker John Boehner to President Barack Obama.

      Many Republicans contended the bill still would cut too little from federal spending; many Democrats said much too much. Still, Republican lawmakers supported the compromise, 174-66, while Democrats split, 95-95

      "The legislation will solve this debt crisis and help get the American people back to work," Boehner said at a news conference a few hours before the vote.

      The Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, was far less effusive. "I'm not happy with it, but I'm proud of some of the accomplishments in it. That's why I'm voting for it."

      So, too, many of the first-term Republicans whose election in 2010 handed the GOP control of the House and set the federal government on a new, more conservative course.

      "It's about time that Congress come together and figure out a way to live within our means," said one of them, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin. "This bill is going to start that process although it doesn't go far enough."

      The measure would cut federal spending by at least $2.1 trillion over a decade - and possibly considerably more - and would not require tax increases. The U.S. debt limit would rise by at least $2.1 trillion, tiding the Treasury over through the 2012 elections.

      Without legislation in place by the end of Tuesday, the Treasury would run out of cash needed to pay all its bills. Administration officials say a default would ensue that would severely damage the economy.

      Beyond merely avoiding disaster, Obama and congressional leaders hoped their extraordinary accord would reassure investors at home and around the world, preserve the United States' Aaa credit rating and begin to slow the growth in America's soaring debt. In a roller-coaster day on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average surged, then sank and finally finished down for a seventh straight session but only slightly.


      Republican leaders win support from raucous freshmen

      Republicans lobbied their rank and file, and the results were far more positive for them than a week ago when they were forced to delay a vote on an earlier measure.

      GOP leaders swiftly drew public pledges of support from some first-termers as well as veteran defense hawks - two areas of concern with the agreement.

      Rep. C.W. (Bill) Young, chairman of the committee that handles the defense budget, said, "We're confident that we can make this happen without affecting readiness and without affecting any of our soldiers."

      There were critics on both sides of the aisle, some of them anguished. "I did not come to Washington to force more people into poverty," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

      "At the end of the day, Washington's spending still has us sprinting toward a fiscal cliff. And this bill barely slows us down," said Rep. Mark Mulvaney, R-S.C.

      There is little suspense about the outcome for the debt-limit legislation in the Senate on Tuesday.

      A member of the Republican leadership in the Senate predicted strong GOP support. "Maybe 35 (of 47) will support it in the end. There will be some who will pull back," said Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho.

      Presidential contenders oppose deal

      Already, the legislation was emerging as an issue in the 2012 presidential campaign.

      Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced their opposition, while Newt Gingrich issued a statement without saying how he would vote.

      The final legislation reflected the priorities of the two political parties.

      It would immediately increase the debt limit by $400 billion, with another $500 billion envisioned unless Congress blocks it. At the same time, it would cut more than $900 billion over 10 years from the day-to-day operating budgets of Cabinet agencies. For the budget year that begins Oct. 1, spending would be held $7 billion below current levels.

      The measure also establishes a 12-member House-Senate committee that will be charged with producing up to $1.5 trillion in additional deficit cuts over a decade. If the panel succeeds, Congress will be required to vote on the recommendations without possibility of changes.

      If the panel deadlocks or fails to produce at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings, then spending cuts are to take effect across much of the federal budget. The Pentagon, domestic agencies and farm subsidies would be affected, as would payments to doctors and other Medicare providers. But individual benefits under Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and programs for veterans and federal retirees would be exempt.