(Washington) — The government reopened its doors Thursday after a battle-weary Congress approved a bipartisan measure to end a 16-day partial shutdown and avert the possibility of an economy-jarring default on U.S. obligations.
President Obama has signed the measure, which the House and Senate passed late Wednesday, ending a brawl with Republicans who tried to use the must-pass legislation to mount a last-ditch effort to derail the president's landmark health care law and demand concessions on the budget.
The White House directed all agencies to reopen promptly and in an orderly fashion. Furloughed federal employees across the country are expected to return to work yesterday.
The impasse had shuttered national parks and monuments, and mostly closed down NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department. Critical functions of government went on as usual and most federal employees won't see their paychecks delayed, but the closure and potential default weighed on the economy and spooked the financial markets.
There were signs early Thursday that the federal government was slowly coming back to life. "We're back from the #shutdown!" the Smithsonian Institution crowed on Twitter, announcing that museums would reopen Thursday and the National Zoo in Washington today.
Standard & Poor's estimated the shutdown has taken $24 billion out of the economy, and the Fitch credit rating agency warned Tuesday that it was reviewing its AAA rating on U.S. government debt for a possible downgrade.
Obama and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill were the decisive winners in the fight, which was sparked by tea party Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who prevailed upon skeptical GOP leaders to use a normally routine short-term funding bill to "defund" the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare.
"We fought the good fight. We just didn't win," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, conceded in a radio interview. He was given positive reviews from Republicans for his handling of the crisis, though it again exposed the tenuous grasp he holds over the fractious House GOP conference.
The agreement was brokered by the Senate's top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and its Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. They stepped in after the House was unable to coalesce around a Republican-only approach Tuesday.
McConnell is up for re-election next year, and his tea party primary opponent issued a statement blasting his role.
"When the stakes are highest, Mitch McConnell can always be counted on to sell out conservatives," Matt Bevin said. In the House, conservatives praised Boehner for tenacity.
The Senate approved the legislation by an 81-18 vote; the House followed suit by a tally of 285-144, with 87 Republicans in favor and 144 against, breaking an informal rule in which a majority of the majority party is supposed to carry legislation. Democrats unanimously supported the bill, even though it locks in funding at levels required by across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.
The legislation would fund the government through January 15 and permit it to borrow normally through February 7, though Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew retains the capacity to employ accounting maneuvers to create wiggle room on the debt limit into mid-March or so.
The shutdown sent GOP approval ratings numbers reeling in public opinion polls and exasperated veteran lawmakers who saw it and the possibility of default as folly.
"After two long weeks, it is time to end this government shutdown. It's time to take the threat of default off the table," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said before the vote. "It's time to restore some sanity to this place."
Most House Republicans opposed the compromise bill for failing to do anything about deficits and debt.
"All this does is delay this fight four months," Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said. "We need to get to the underlying cause of the problem, which is our out-of-control spending and deficits, and fix it before it's too late and we go down the toilet to bankruptcy because that's where America is headed."
The bill's passage was only a temporary truce that sets up another collision between Obama and Republicans over spending and borrowing early next year. It's the second time this year that Congress has passed legislation to increase the government's borrowing cap with few if any conditions on the president, reversing a 2011 precedent in which the threat of default was used to extract $2.1 trillion in spending cuts from a politically wounded Obama.
"With the shutdown behind us," Obama said after the Senate vote, "we now have an opportunity to focus on a sensible budget that is responsible, that is fair and that helps hardworking people all across this country."
At the same time, House-Senate talks will begin on a broader budget pact in hopes of curbing deficits and easing across-the-board budget cuts that have slammed the Pentagon and domestic agencies alike. Such agreements have proven elusive in the current era of divided government.
"No one thinks this will be easy" Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said of budget negotiations.
Murray and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., along with their ranking minority members, immediately scheduled a breakfast meeting for Thursday to break the ice.
Hear are excerpts statements issued by midstate congressmen, marking the end of the shutdown:
Republican Scott Perry represents Adams County and portions of York, Dauphin and Cumberland counties:
“Collectively, Washington has once again avoided the tough decisions needed to reduce our unsustainable debt and strengthen the economy for all Americans. This is a clear failure of leadership on behalf of the Obama Administration and Congress.
During my first month in office, I supported a clean debt ceiling extension without condition because I sincerely wanted to give all parties time to reach a reasonable compromise to avoid default and start addressing both our near-term spending and long-term debt crisis. The lack of willingness on behalf of the Obama Administration and Senate Democrats to engage whatsoever in that process leads me to believe they have no sincere interest in addressing these pressing issues. As a result, the legislation before us tonight is tantamount to accepting the failed policy of endless borrowing from China, Japan and the Social Security Trust Fund to satisfy an ever expanding government bureaucracy. I can’t support that."
Republican Tom Marino represents portions of Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties:
“We were asked to support a bill that does nothing to address out of control spending. It does nothing the address the nearly $17 trillion we have racked up in national debt and it does nothing to reverse the train wreck that is Obamacare.”
“I cannot support this short-term fix that does nothing but kick the can farther down the road."
House Republicans were listening to our constituents back home. We pursued a reasonable approach to negotiate with the Senate and the President to find a solution that worked for all Americans."
“Make no mistake, House Republicans lost this battle. However, I was sent to Washington cut spending, downsize Washington, and keep taxes low for all Americans. The backdoor deal stuck by leaders in the Senate accomplishes none of this. Nevertheless, the war is far from over.”
Republican Lou Barletta represents all of Columbia County and parts of Cumberland, Dauphin, Northumberland and Perry counties:
“I never wanted the government to shut down, nor did I want to default on America’s financial obligations. After weeks of attempts at negotiations and many House votes to reopen the government, I believe we are finally on a path to move forward and get back to the work of governing the country. While the final legislation we passed tonight does not even approach what I would have preferred, my love for this county and my concern for the well being of her people trump everything.
It’s important to note that this is only a temporary arrangement, and I am sincerely hopeful that many of my concerns about Obamacare and government spending can be addressed as we move past this crisis."
Republican Joe Pitts represents portions of Lancaster and Berks counties:
“The shutdown should never have happened. This episode exposes some of the worst elements of modern politics. This bill is a bad resolution to a bad situation. This bill punts yet again on our country’s biggest problems. I hope that next time around both sides will do what’s good for our country instead of trying to gain political advantage.”
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