The House has passed, 269-161, a deficit-reduction package that will raise the debt ceiling through the 2012 elections. The bill had bipartisan support, but 66 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted against the legislation that had opposition from both the right and left flanks.
It was a victory for House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, but the victory was overtaken by the stunning appearance on the House floor by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in her first public appearance since her January shooting. She voted in favor of the bill.
(PICTURES: Giffords in House Chamber Monday)
The legislation guarantees at least $2.1 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, with negotiators hopeful that it will achieve closer to $3 trillion in savings if Congress can enact further deficit-reduction measures by December. The legislation also provides for a vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution before the end of the year. It includes no tax increases.
The bill heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. The Senate will vote on final passage of the bill at 12 p.m. on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced on Monday. Under a unanimous-consent agreement, the vote will have a 60-vote threshold for passage. The bill will then go to President Obama for his signature.
The bill was the result of months of wrangling between President Obama and congressional leaders punctuated by partisan rancor but finally resolved as the United States ran up against an August 2 deadline, when the government was scheduled to begin defaulting on its debts.
House GOP leaders spent much of Monday underscoring that the deal was “less than perfect,” but that it was a step forward in terms of their overall goal to cut government spending.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., voiced dissatisfaction with the process—House Democrats were largely left out of the negotiations—but supported the bill because “to govern is to compromise, not to sell out, though some people on this floor think that voting for a compromise is somehow a sellout.”
“The truth of the matter is there is sort of a sword of Damocles hanging over everybody’s head,” said Vice President Joe Biden, after meeting with House Democrats earlier on Monday, in which he described the mood as one of frustration.
Both the Republican Conference and the Democratic Caucus wrestled on Monday with internal divisions, forcing Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to intensify efforts to make sure they had the numbers needed for the bill's passage.
Some Republicans, including those on the House Armed Services Committee, voiced concerns that the defense cuts were too deep. Boehner met privately with the Republican panel members, to explain that the cuts were not negotiable at this phase, and could have been much worse.
Some of the more vocal objections came from members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus. Members of the CBC, in a symbolic move to underscore their anger, abstained from voting until a majority of Republicans had first cast their votes.
But while many Democrats see this deal as acquiescing too much to the demands of the tea party wing of the GOP—not all tea party groups see it that way. The Tea Party Patriots blasted the agreement as “a failure of leadership” and added that, "they're trying to sell us a deal that means we'll be $23 trillion in debt in a few years instead of $26 trillion … that's not cutting spending, and it is just that simple.”
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