Gabby Giffords returns to Congress and helps House pass debt compromise

Holly Bailey
The Ticket

Just a day before the United States faces financial default, House lawmakers approved a compromise bill that will raise the nation's debt ceiling in exchange for trillions of dollars in federal spending cuts.

The bill, approved 269 to 161, will increase the debt ceiling by at least $2 trillion as well as cut roughly the same amount in federal spending over the next decade. The legislation was backed by a solid majority of Republicans and about half of the Democratic caucus. Sixty-six Republicans and 95 Democrats voted no.

Among the "yea" votes: Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who appeared on the House floor for the first time since January, when she was shot and critically wounded at a congressional event in her Arizona district.

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid has said lawmakers will vote on the bill around noon on Tuesday.

The vote came after hours of political maneuvering on both sides of the aisle. In closed-door meetings, House Speaker John Boehner sought to win over conservatives, who believe the cuts enacted weren't steep enough. Meanwhile, Reid and other Democrats tried to win votes among liberal members of their caucus who are angry over the bill's failure to increase taxes on the nation's wealthiest Americans, which had been pushed by President Obama as a way to raise revenues for the country.

"People on the right are upset. People on the left are upset. People in the middle are upset," Reid told reporters Tuesday. "It was a compromise. It's not always easy for both sides to reach consensus. We did it on a bipartisan basis."

On the House side, Majority Leader Eric Cantor argued that while the deal is "not perfect," it is a victory for the GOP in that it "will begin to change the culture" in Washington.

"The big win here for us and for the American people is the fact that there are no tax hikes in this package," Cantor said.

Indeed, Boehner echoed Cantor's comments in an interview with CBS's Scott Pelley, insisting he got many of the provisions he had argued for in the legislation.

"I got 98 percent of what I wanted," he said. "I'm pretty happy."

But the drama of the vote was quickly overtaken by an emotional moment on the House floor, as Giffords made her first appearance on Capitol Hill to cast her vote in favor of the legislation--stunning virtually every lawmaker in the chamber.

Her office announced she would vote on the bill only moments before she appeared on the House floor. As the Arizona congresswoman made her way to her seat with the help of a friend, lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, rose to their feet and erupted into applause, many visibly emotional.

Beaming, Giffords waved and thanked her colleagues, many of whom rushed to hug and kiss her.

In a speech, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called her return the "personification of courage."

"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. "After weeks of failed debate in Washington, I was pleased to see a solution to this crisis emerge. I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics. I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy."