Back In Business
WASHINGTON — 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 bill, 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 quickly signed the bill early today. “We’ll begin reopening our government immediately, and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and the American people,” the president said.
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 demanded 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. After Obama signed the bill, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, issued a memorandum ordering department heads to “open offices in a prompt and orderly manner.”
“All employees who were on furlough due to the absence of appropriations may now return to work,” Burwell said.
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. today 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.