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House passes debt-ceiling deal

WASHINGTON -- Emergency legislation to scrape past an economy-rattling national financial default sped through the House last night, a scant day before the deadline for action. The vote was 269-161.

The moment was made all the more electric by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' first appearance in Congress since being shot in the head six months earlier. She drew thunderous applause as she walked into the House chamber unannounced and cast her vote in favor of the bill.

A final Senate signoff for the measure is virtually assured today.

"If the bill were presented to the president, he would sign it," the White House said, an understatement of enormous proportions.

After months of fiercely partisan 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 (R-Ohio) to President Barack Obama.

"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 of California, 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, Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin. "This bill is going to start that process although it doesn't go far enough."

In all, 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted for the bill, while 66 Republicans and 95 Democrats opposed it.

The measure would cut federal spending by at least $2.1 trillion over a decade -- and possibly considerably more -- and has no 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 be short 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' Aaa 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.

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