Crisis legislation to yank the nation past the threat of a historic financial default sped through the House on Monday night, breaking weeks of deadlock.
The vote was 269-161, a scant day ahead of the deadline for action. A final Senate sign-off for the measure is virtually assured today . 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. She told ABC's Diane Sawyer that she would support the deal despite it being a Satan sandwich "with some Satan fries on the side."
She later said, "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 today, 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' triple A 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.
Giffords' return stirs House chamber
The rare moment of cooperation turned celebratory when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, 41, strode in for the first time since she was shot in the head nearly seven months ago. She walked into the House chamber unannounced.
One legislator dropped his dignity and climbed on a chair to see who the fuss was about. Another, seeing the commotion, assumed the president had arrived. But it was Giffords, with shorter hair than when she left, a bandage on her right wrist and the scars of trauma still visible on her head.
The previous evening, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., Giffords' closet friend in Congress, received a call from Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, who said Giffords was following the debt debate. Giffords remained eager to weigh in on the significant issue, Wasserman Schultz said.
"We had all prayed she would be able to do this," said Wasserman Schultz. "It was a huge step."
Giffords, who was shot while greeting constituents outside a supermarket in Tucson, cast her vote — "yes" — and left the House chamber and the Capitol.
"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.
"I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics.''
Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.