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House passes debt deal, Giffords surprises

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The nation risks default if the debt ceiling is not raised by Tuesday evening. (Source: CNN) The nation risks default if the debt ceiling is not raised by Tuesday evening. (Source: CNN)
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH (Source: CNN) Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH (Source: CNN)
President Barack Obama (Source: CNN) President Barack Obama (Source: CNN)
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(RNN) - The House of Representatives passed legislation Monday evening that would raise the national debt ceiling to more than $14.3 trillion if approved by the Senate.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 was passed by a decisive majority vote of 269 to 161.

The legislation, which was warred over for months by Democrats and Republicans before a compromise was brokered Sunday evening, is needed because the U.S. has "hit" its $14.2 trillion debt limit.

Giffords returns to Washington

While the news that the debt ceiling bill passed brought representatives to their feet in applause, it was a surprise vote by one individual who brought down the House.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ, surprised members of the House when she made a dramatic appearance to cast her vote in support of the bill aimed at preventing an economic crisis.

It was Giffords' first public appearance since she was shot in the head during a "Congress on Your Corner" event Jan. 8 in Tucson, AZ. Nineteen others were shot during the attack.

Giffords appeared on the House floor with a smile on her face, short hair and dark-rimmed glasses. She could be seen mouthing the words, "Thank you," as her colleagues cheered.

After the vote on the "Budget Control Act of 2011," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, recognized Giffords before the entire House.

"Her presence here in the chamber, as well as well as her service throughout her entire service in Congress, is an honor to this chamber," Pelosi said. "We are privileged to call her colleague. Some of us very privileged to call her friend."

Pelosi said Americans want their daughters to be like just like her fellow Democrat.

If the debt ceiling is not raised before midnight Tuesday, the country risks defaulting on its loans and tarnishing its AAA credit rating.

[SLIDESHOW: Only 17 countries hold AAA rating]

All that stands in the way of the U.S. avoiding a default is a showdown in the Senate, whose leadership announced the resolution Sunday. The vote is scheduled for Tuesday.

Republican detractors have already lined up in the Senate, where the threat of a filibuster looms.

"I cannot in good conscience support this deal," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, in a statement. "Simply stated, it locks us into more debt, bigger government and - most devastating of all - a weakened defense infrastructure at a time when we face growing threats."

Once signed by President Barack Obama, the legislation will immediately enact 10-year discretionary caps on federal spending. Balanced evenly between defense and domestic spending, the caps will save the nation about $1 trillion. Additional savings of more than $900 billion over the next decade will be achieved through limits on so-called discretionary spending.

The new law also sets up a bipartisan committee charged with identifying an additional $1.5 trillion in spending cuts. Congress is required to deliver results by Nov. 23, which must be voted on within a month's time.

If the committee cannot agree on the cuts, an enforcement mechanism will introduce fixed spending cuts in 2013. While Social Security, Medicare and food stamps would be exempt, the cuts would again be across the board.

Legislators hope the committee will be pressed to compromise on cuts, as the fixed cuts would deal a swift blow to the spending priorities of both parties.

Who's this winner?

In a press conference held Monday, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, declared victory for the GOP, saying its two major goals were achieved. Boehner expressed contentment that the mandated spending cuts exceeded the increase to the debt ceiling. At the same time, taxes were not raised.

But who emerges as the real victor is up for debate.

Republicans had hoped to raise the debt ceiling a small amount and revisit the issue in 2012, which also happens to be an election year. Instead, the debt limit will be revisited in 2013, after the presidential race has been decided.

This seems like a victory for Obama.

"I believe (Obama) views this (debate) as a distraction for next year," said Dr. Keivan Deravi, a noted economist at Auburn University Montgomery.

The current bill authorizes the president to increase the debt limit until that point.

Pushing aside another debt ceiling debate until after the election would avoid an ideological economic debate and bring greater scrutiny to the individual candidate.

Fierce fiscal conservative and real estate mogul Donald Trump echoed the same sentiments Monday to CNN's Brooke Baldwin.

"One thing that Obama got that was fantastic for him, in terms of his own political ambitions, was that he got it past the election," Trump said.

The White House put a different spin on the issue, saying that waiting until 2013 to further raise the debt ceiling would eliminate "key headwind on the economy."

A White House fact sheet said "a short-term debt limit increase would create unacceptable economic uncertainty by risking default again within only a matter of months."

But in his CNN appearance, Trump said Obama did right for himself and for the Democratic Party in terms of getting elected.

"If this mess came through again before the election, it would be virtually impossible for him to be elected," he said.

Still, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party was unhappy with the bill Obama publicly supported.

"This is a Satan sandwich," said Rep. Emmanuel Cleave, D-MO, on Sunday evening to ABC News. "There's no question about it, because there's nothing inside this sandwich that the major religions of the world will say deals with protection for the poor, the widows, the children. It's not in here."

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-CA, criticized negotiators who asked "the rich to sacrifice nothing."

"This may be the single-worst piece of policy to ever come out of this institution," she said on the House floor Monday.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, told ABC World News' Diane Sawyer that the bill was indeed satanic.

"I'm not happy with it," she said before the House during debate Monday evening.

The former speaker of the house ended up voting for the bill.

Trump said America was the biggest loser of all.

"It's disappointing for me, because the cuts were so little," said the Tea Party sympathizer.

Notable Tea Party freshmen, who had promised to get federal spending under control, did not vote in support of the legislation, despite its endorsement from Boehner. Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann, R-MN, was among the detractors.

"This does nothing to change the fiscal disaster that we're in right now," said Rep. Joe Walsh, R-IL, in an appearance on CNN.

While the legislation will require Congress to vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, a two-thirds majority is needed in both chambers to pass. Partisan politics are unlikely to allow its passage.

Whatever the case, one thing may be for sure: "When you mix politics and economics, you get an ugly commodity," Deravi said.

Copyright 2011 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.


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