House approves debt ceiling bill

Published 10:19 am Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Most local legislators are playing Minnesota Nice with the debt ceiling budget deal this week.

Democratic Rep. Tim Walz voted in favor of crisis legislation to yank the nation past the threat of a historic financial default Monday.

“After a frustrating process that took far too long, I am glad we finally reached an agreement and acted tonight to avoid a default,” Walz said in a statement Monday. “I believe this provides our economy with stability it desperately needs during this time of recovery.”

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The debt ceiling bill sped through the House Monday night, breaking weeks of deadlock. The rare moment of cooperation turned celebratory when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords strode in for the first time since she was shot in the head nearly seven months ago.

The vote was 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.

Minnesota Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar both indicated they would support the debt ceiling deal Monday.

“I will vote for this package, because defaulting would have grave economic consequences for my Minnesota constituent,” Franken said in a statement.

Franken said in a release that he supports the proposal because it will raise the nation’s debt limit and prevent a U.S. default that would be “disastrous to all Minnesotans.” But Franken said the deal relies too heavily on spending cuts.

“The deal that has been struck is not balanced, as I would have preferred,” Franken said in a statement. “It does achieve the laudable goal of reducing the deficit, but does so with only cuts, even though a significant majority of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, favor closing loopholes for corporations and tax increases on the wealthiest Americans to make sure everyone is paying their fair share.”

Klobuchar said she will also vote in favor of the deal, releasing a statement saying that “while it is certainly not a perfect plan, the time has come to break through the partisan stalemate.”

“Over the past week I have heard from countless Minnesotans who want Congress to come together and reach a compromise on the debt ceiling,” Klobuchar said in the statement. “This bipartisan agreement will save our country from defaulting on our obligations, which would have caused real pain for Minnesota families and businesses, while also reducing our nation’s deficit and putting us on a path towards fiscal responsibility.”

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.

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 Associated Press contributed to this report