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GABBY: "THE PERSONIFICATION OF COURAGE"

We didn't know what to expect when Congress voted on the debt deal on Monday afternoon, Aug. 1. We certainly didn't expect to see members of both parties joining in a standing ovation.

That's what they did, though, when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords returned to the House floor for the first time after being shot through the head on Jan. 8.

Giffords, accompanied by chief of staff Pia Carusone, walked onto the floor with just minutes left to cast her vote in favor of the debt-ceiling deal.

"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 e-mailed to reporters. "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."

We're told that Giffords made the final decision on Monday morning that she wanted to be in Washington, D.C., for the vote on the debt ceiling. She'd been mulling whether to go over the weekend, especially since her Democratic colleagues had no idea whether the bill would pass or how close the vote would be.

On Monday, after consulting with her staff, she boarded a commercial flight with her husband, retiring NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, and headed to D.C.

She made it to the House floor with just minutes to spare before the vote on the debt-ceiling bill wrapped up. Her fellow lawmakers, many taken by surprise by her entrance, broke into sustained applause.

Republicans and Democrats alike celebrated her return.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called Giffords "the personification of courage, of sincerity, of admiration throughout the country. Her presence today to make sure we honor the obligations of our great country is important and symbolic. ... We are all privileged to call her 'colleague'; some of us are very privileged to call her 'friend.' Throughout America, there isn't a name that stirs more love, more admiration, more respect, more wishing for our daughters to be like her, than the name of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords."

Republican Ted Poe, a Texas congressman who has been working with Giffords' staff on border-security issues, called Giffords "one of the best things in this Congress. ... She is a model for the attitude that we should all have. She is tenacious; she is relentless in her love for America, and her desire to do what's right and represent the people in Arizona who elected her here. Welcome back, Gabby Giffords. You were missed, and we're glad you're back."

So say we all.

The day after the vote, Giffords headed back to Houston to continue her rehabilitation. While she's keeping track of what's happening in Washington and in her district, no one should expect Giffords to leap back into her committee assignments just yet. She still has a tough road ahead as she fights to regain her voice.

And despite a surge of rumors to the contrary, she's made no decision on seeking re-election in 2012.

No matter how that plays out, this week's vote marked another step in a remarkable and inspiring recovery.


BORROWED TIME

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords may have voted yes on the debt-ceiling deal, but her counterpart in Southern Arizona, Congressman Raúl Grijalva, was furious over the terms.

The co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus was staunchly opposed to the bill, saying it "trades people's livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals."

In a statement, Grijalva said: "This deal does not even attempt to strike a balance between more cuts for the working people of America and a fairer contribution from millionaires and corporations. The very wealthy will continue to receive taxpayer handouts, and corporations will keep their expensive federal giveaways. Meanwhile, millions of families unfairly lose more in this deal than they have already lost. I will not be a part of it."

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain found himself in hot water after he went on a tirade against the Tea Party purists last week. Quoting extensively from a Wall Street Journal editorial, McCain compared Tea Party members to hobbits and said they were living in a fantasy world, because they wouldn't make a deal.

He added that supporters of a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution were "deceiving" Americans into believing that the legislation had a viable chance of passage.

We'd agree with McCain—but we'd add that he's deceiving America as well, with his statements that the budget can be balanced without some kind of tax increase. The GOP's anti-tax pathology is a big part of the reason we're in as much debt as we are.

McCain ended up voting for the debt-ceiling deal, although he's worried about the cuts to defense spending that will be necessary if lawmakers can't come up with an alternative plan to balance the budget.

Guess what, senator? The real alternative is clearing away the barnacles in the tax code by eliminating all of those exemptions so you can bring in more revenue even as you lower rates. Yes, that means increasing somebody's taxes—so stop lying to the American people about how it's not necessary.


HEALTH-CARE CHECKUP

Attorney Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest was scheduled to be in court this week to argue that Gov. Jan Brewer can't cut health-care coverage for Arizonans under the federal poverty line.

State lawmakers looked to chop Arizona's AHCCCS spending by more than $500 million to balance the budget earlier this year.

Gov. Jan Brewer is trying to block any new childless adults from signing up for AHCCCS, even though voters approved the eligibility levels by passing the Healthy Arizona initiative 11 years ago. She has other plans to reduce eligibility that still need federal approval.

Hogan argues that the eligibility levels set by voters can't be reversed without another vote of the people.

So far, he's struck out in the courts. The Arizona Supreme Court declined to block Brewer's new policy, telling Hogan he needed to start in Maricopa County Superior Court. Hogan was due to present his case on Wednesday, Aug. 3.

As we've detailed in the past ("Draining Arizona Health Care," July 14), Arizona's hospitals are worried that the cuts in coverage will result in big losses, which could push some of them (particularly in rural areas) into bankruptcy or closure.

The hospitals have found an unlikely ally: The Arizona Chamber Foundation, an offshoot of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, recently issued a lengthy policy brief that examines the options available to the state.

The big takeaway: State lawmakers should reconsider a proposal from the hospitals to create a new tax on health-care providers that will allow the state to continue to provide coverage for low-income Arizonans—and allow the state to continue to receive federal matching funds that would otherwise be lost.

Whether lawmakers will listen to the chamber remains to seen—and the likelihood that they'd reverse their decision to cut health-care funding may depend on whether the courts agree that the Legislature and Brewer are breaking the law.

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