New deal closer

FILE - In this July 30, 2013 file photo, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Up against a deadline, Congress passed and sent a waiting President Barack Obama legislation late Wednesday night to avoid a threatened national default and end the 16-day partial government shutdown, the culmination of an epic political drama that placed the U.S. economy at risk.

The Senate voted first, a bipartisan 81-18 at midevening. That cleared the way for a final 285-144 vote in the Republican-controlled House about two hours later on the legislation, which hewed strictly to the terms Obama laid down when the twin crises erupted more than three weeks ago.

The legislation would permit the Treasury to borrow normally through Feb. 7 or perhaps a month longer, and fund the government through Jan. 15. More than 2 million federal workers would be paid — those who had remained on the job and those who had been furloughed.

After the Senate approved the measure, Obama hailed the vote and said he would sign it immediately after it reached his desk. "We'll begin reopening our government immediately and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and the American people."

Later, in the House, Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said, "After two long weeks, it is time to end this government shutdown. It's time to take the threat of default off the table. It's time to restore some sanity to this place."

The stock market surged higher at the prospect of an end to the crisis that also had threatened to shake confidence in the U.S. economy overseas.

Republicans conceded defeat after a long struggle. "We fought the good fight. We just didn't win," conceded House Speaker John Boehner as lawmakers lined up to vote on a bill that includes nothing for GOP lawmakers who had demand to eradicate or scale back Obama's signature health care overhaul.

"The compromise we reached will provide our economy with the stability it desperately needs," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, declaring that the nation "came to the brink of disaster" before sealing an agreement.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who negotiated the deal with Reid, emphasized that it preserved a round of spending cuts negotiated two years ago with Obama and Democrats. As a result, he said, "government spending has declined for two years in a row" for the first time since the Korean War. "And we're not going back on this agreement," he added.

Only a temporary truce, the measure set a time frame of early this winter for the next likely clash between Obama and the Republicans over spending and borrowing.

But for now, government was lurching back to life. Within moments of the House's vote, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, issued a statement saying "employees should expect to return to work in the morning."

After weeks of gridlock, the measure had support from the White House, most if not all Democrats in Congress and many Republicans fearful of the economic impact of a default.

Boehner and the rest of the top GOP leadership told their rank and file in advance they would vote for the measure. In the end, Republicans split 144 against and 87 in favor. All 198 voting Democrats were supporters.

Final passage came in plenty of time to assure Obama's signature before the administration's 11:59 p.m. Thursday deadline.

That was when Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the government would reach the current $16.7 trillion debt limit and could no longer borrow to meet its obligations.

Tea party-aligned lawmakers who triggered the shutdown that began on Oct. 1 said they would vote against the legislation. Significantly, though, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and others agreed not to use the Senate's cumbersome 18th-century rules to slow the bill's progress.

In remarks on the Senate floor, Cruz said the measure was "a terrible deal" and criticized fellow Republicans for lining up behind it.

McConnell made no mention of the polls showing that the shutdown and flirtation with default have sent Republicans' public approval plummeting and have left the party badly split nationally as well as in his home state of Kentucky. He received a prompt reminder, though.

"When the stakes are highest Mitch McConnell can always be counted on to sell out conservatives," said Matt Bevin, who is challenging the party leader from the right in a 2014 election primary.

More broadly, national tea party groups and their allies underscored the internal divide. The Club for Growth urged lawmakers to vote against the congressional measure, and said it would factor in the organization's decision when it decides which candidates to support in midterm elections next year.

"There are no significant changes to Obamacare, nothing on the other major entitlements that are racked with trillions in unfunded liabilities, and no meaningful spending cuts either. If this bill passes, Congress will kick the can down the road, yet again," the group said.

Even so, support for Boehner appeared solid inside his fractious rank and file. "There are no plots, plans or rumblings that I know of. And I was part of one in January, so I'd probably be on the whip list for that," said Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out in favor of the bill.

Simplicity at the end, there was next to nothing in the agreement beyond authorization for the Treasury to resume borrowing and funding for the government to reopen.

House and Senate negotiators are to meet this fall to see if progress is possible on a broad deficit-reduction compromise of the type that has proved elusive in the current era of divided government.

Additionally, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is to be required to produce a report stating that her agency is capable of verifying the incomes of individuals who apply for federal subsidies under the health care law known as Obamacare.

Obama had insisted repeatedly he would not pay "ransom" by yielding to Republican demands for significant changes to the health care overhaul in exchange for funding the government and permitting Treasury the borrowing latitude to pay the nation's bills.

Other issues fell by the wayside in a final deal, including a Republican proposal for the suspension of a medical device tax in Obamacare and a Democratic call to delay a fee on companies for everyone who receives health coverage under an employer-sponsored plan.

The gradual withering of Republicans' Obamacare-related demands defined the arc of the struggle that has occupied virtually all of Congress' time for the past three weeks.

The shutdown began on Oct. 1 after Cruz and his tea party allies in the House demanded the defunding of the health care law as a trade for providing essential government funding.

Obama and Reid refused, then refused again and again as Boehner gradually scaled back Republican demands.

The shutdown initially idled about 800,000 workers, but that soon fell to about 350,000 after Congress agreed to let furloughed Pentagon employees return to work. While there was widespread inconvenience, the mail was delivered, Medicare continued to pay doctors who treated seniors and there was no interruption in Social Security benefits.

Still, national parks were closed to the detriment of tourists and local businesses, government research scientists were sent home and Food and Drug Administration inspectors worked only sporadically.

(17) comments

shiftless88

People like to throw around "$17Trillion and it's a big number but how big is too big and how small is sufficient? As a percent of GDP we are higher than desired perhaps, but since everyone likes to compare to "household" then I would suggest that many people have debts greater than 100% of their annual income (primarily for a house but perhaps student loans as well). One measure of whether or not your debt is too high is the free market (remember that?); if the free market is chomping at the bit to loan you money then it's a good bet you are a good bet. And that is our situation right now.

darththevader

What does " have spending in one area of the budget decline for two years in a row," mean? What part of the budget? Decrease how much? Is that getting offset by increasing somewhere else? Does "decrease" mean "less of an increase?

shiftless88

It means that for two years in a row the spending (budget) of the government has declined. Why is that so hard for you to understand? The budget has declined from its peak and deficits are falling. They are still high, but decreasing.

president8444

Just look at all the spenders of our billions to foreign countries ,many here,not me. American first you dumbies.

president8444

All foreign countries hAppy raise limit and we pay off OO obama nad Kerry. Great for all of us to pay the foreign cpountries billions hurray for Obama.No debt limit for them.we tax payers lose again

Crustybachelor

The tea partiers got their nose rubbed in their own mess. Now lets not let them wipe it off.

chesapeakecountry

Are you concerned at all about the 17 Trillion Dollar debt? (as of today $52,882.00 for every person in the United States). This number includes children, the retired, disabled, and low income workers so when you realize they can't pay any of the debt the number owed by those who can actually pay sky-rockets. Our children will not be able to sustain the standard of living we have come accustomed to in this country. That is an embarrassment and shame that all should feel but unfortunately most want to do nothing but borrow more and make the problem worse to be solved by our kids later. It's easy to be a "can kicker" or "rock thrower". What we need is Americans with courage and a work ethic willing to bite the bullet and do the right thing. Unfortunately those type folks are being labeled and scorned as extremists and nut-jobs by those want to protect the status qua for their own selfish interests. The average citizen is clueless.

Crustybachelor

And how has the government shutdown helped that ? And how would defaulting on debt payments help...since we would lose our credit rating and world standing and face higher interest rates ? The "nut jobs" just rail against it, but have no solutions. It's a complicated world financially, and this is a complicated problem. Failing to pay our debts will not help. Figuring out how to pay the interest on our debts, and the debts themselves is what needs to be done.

chesapeakecountry

Really? How will not RAISING the amount of money we borrow and owe help us to not owe more? I think even you if you were completely honest with yourself could figure that one out. It's time for some pain and major belt tightening. The solution is simple.... Stop spending more than you take in. Eliminate the borrowing. See that wasn't so hard to figure out!

stuckon270

As stated you start by belt tightening. I know the Dems just want to raise taxes, and if you mean by ending special deductions for ALL, then I am with you. There are not enough "Rich" people to pay off this bill now. The Republicans caved (including Cruz) becasue the did not want to see a default. The Dems did not cave, because they knew a default would be blamed on the Republicans, and they were willing to take the chance for a political wind fall. So answer me this, what belt tightening, have the Democrats been working on, that will reduce the real debt. The answer is none, and neither have the Republicans. The only ones who have proposed any thing to seriously reduce the debt is the Tea Party. If you think the power holders in either the Democratic party, or Republican party are looking out for you the little guy, you are naive.

darththevader

Ummm...how about we plan on spending less

shiftless88

Chessy, this shutdown was in protest of the ACA. Remember?

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business

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

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vicdavy

dlharmon, I totally agree. These uneducated extremist have to go!

usgov

Once again Obama has taken republicans to the woodshed. [sad]

chesapeakecountry

Really? How so?

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