THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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.
At the White House, Obama hailed the Senate’s vote. Once the measure reaches his desk, he said, “I will sign it immediately. We’ll begin reopening our government immediately and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and the American people.”
Less than an hour later, as debate began 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 Republicans demanding 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.
Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly said he was part of Senate coalition consisting of six Democrats, seven Republicans and one independent over the past few weeks to build the “bipartisan framework” for a compromise.
The agreement voted on tonight includes much of that framework, but wasn’t an exact replica, Donnelly said in an afternoon conference call with reporters.
“This is about the jobs in Indiana, making sure we don’t have any interruptions in creating more jobs, about our families making ends meet. It’s about our economy. It’s about our nation’s reputation,” he said, but broadened his comments to cover further than just the Hoosier state line.
“I think we need more people focused on what’s best for Indiana, what’s best for our nation, and less about what’s best in politics. This is not about Democrat, this is not about Republican, it’s about America.”
In a statement, Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said Congress “is kicking the can down the road and ignoring what needs to be done.
“While I deplore supporting yet another short-term Band-Aid, the only thing worse would be a continued government shutdown, the United States defaulting on its debt obligations and the elimination of the spending reductions enacted by Congress in 2011.”
Coats voiced disappointment in the outcome “but my commitment to reducing our debt, growing the economy and getting Americans back to work will not waver. I will be an integral part of the ongoing effort to address our nation’s serious financial challenges.”
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 next winter for the next likely clash between Obama and the Republicans over spending and borrowing.
But for now, government was lurching back to life. In one example, officials met to discuss plans for gearing back up at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where 307 employees remained at work during the partial shutdown and more than 8,000 were furloughed.
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 they would vote for the measure, and there was little or no doubt it would pass both houses and reach the White House in time for Obama’s signature before the administration’s 11:59 p.m. Oct. 17 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.