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Debt ceiling: One clear profile in courage

August 1, 2011 |  6:24 pm

It's hard to vote for a debt-ceiling increase -- it looks like a vote in favor of borrowing, even though it's really a vote to honor the commitments Congress has already made. Still, it's more than a little puzzling that House Republicans, the clear winners in Washington's battle over the terms of the latest increase, would refuse to provide the votes necessary to get the deal their leaders struck with Senate Democrats and President Obama through the House on Monday.

Instead, with 66 Republicans voting "no," the task of keeping the agreement alive fell to House Democrats, who got exactly nothing out of the negotiations. Zero, zip, nada. And so 95 Democrats voted "aye." Among them was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Democrat from Arizona who was shot through the head by a would-be assassin in January.

Giffords could have chosen a far easier vote to make on her first day back in the Capitol. And she could have taken the politically expedient way out and voted "no." After all, the measure was on its way to passing by the time she arrived on the House floor. But in a statement released by her office, she said: "I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy."

Imagine that -- she was worried that not raising the debt ceiling would be bad for the country.

I know the argument against raising the debt ceiling: Federal spending is a runaway train, and it's got to be stopped. But that's what the annual appropriations bills are for. That's what tax bills are for. That what the statutes that create or change entitlements are for. Those measures make the commitments that create deficits; raising the debt ceiling ensures only that the country does what Congress promised it would do, rather than stiffing its creditors or abruptly and arbitrarily curtailing services and benefits.

The one piece of legislation that enables Congress to control every aspect of federal spending is the annual budget resolution, which sets limits on spending, revenue and borrowing. Four months ago nearly every Republican in the House voted in favor of a fiscal 2012 budget resolution that called for about $4.4 trillion in cuts to projected deficits over 10 years. But the measure also called for raising the debt ceiling by nearly $9 trillion over that period -- $1.9 trillion just to get through September 2012.

Giffords was incapacitated at the time, so she gets no credit or blame for the budget resolution. But she deserves every second of the ovation she received upon her return to the House floor Monday.


Debt ceiling: What's the excuse for voting 'no'?

What does "compromise" mean?

Where's the Obama plan (that we leaked)?

Obama throws the GOP a debt-ceiling rope

-- Jon Healey

Photo: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) casting a vote in the House on Monday. Credit: AP Photo / House Television

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