The scramble to avoid a catastrophic debt default is almost over — and with an ending that would make Aaron Sorkin jealous. It was always going to be a dramatic moment, even once it became clear Republican and Democratic leaders had put together the votes to pass a last-minute bill to raise the debt ceiling.
However, the drama was heightened even further by the return of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who was shot and nearly killed in January at a constituent event in Tuscon.
As the clock ticked down, Democrats and Republicans had engaged in a standoff. Democrats were withholding their votes to force Republicans to go on the record first — Democrats had no intention of letting Republicans off the hook on legislation that so closely adheres to their interests.
That all ended when Giffords walked into the chamber to a standing ovation, and proceeded to vote in favor of the measure. After a long applause, the votes cascaded in and the measure passed easily.
Still, scores of progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans voted against the legislation, which ultimately passed 269-161. Democrats split evenly: 95-95. The Republicans broke down 174-66. Though House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) voted for the legislation, they did allow members to vote their conscience. And in a sign of Pelosi’s underlying disapproval of the measure, her top allies, including Reps George Miller (D-CA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) ultimately voted no.
The measure is meant to slash $2 trillion from the deficit. Most of those savings, if not all, will come from cuts to domestic and defense spending. The bill guarantees no tax increases.
The Senate will take up the legislation Tuesday. Though a time has not yet been set for that vote, its path to passage is much clearer in the upper chamber, where partisan divisions over taxes and government spending on key social programs have not called into question the imperative of avoiding default.
The legislation will then go straight to President Obama’s desk for a signature. It assures the country will have borrowing authority into 2013, and thus guarantee that future legislative fights over budget deficits will not occur under the threat of default.
UPDATE - This piece was revised at 7:30pm to reflect Rep. Giffords’ surprise return to the chamber.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.