Federal agencies began to reopen Thursday morning after Congress finally ended a rancorous funding fight that resulted in a 16-day government shutdown and drove the United States to the brink of financial default.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Democrat from Nevada, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican from Kentucky, struck a deal that funds the government through mid-January. Hundreds of thousands of civil service workers can now go back to their jobs. The bill that passed late Wednesday also raised the $16.7 trillion debt limit.
Right-wing, tea party conservatives pushed Republican leaders to use the shutdown to try and change or roll back President Obama’s landmark federal law regulating the health care industry. But the effort only succeeded in undermining public support for the Republican Party.
By the end of the showdown, worried about their own re-election chances, Republicans in Congress proved ready to give the president exactly what he requested before the standoff, a bill to fund the government and increase the Treasury Department’s borrowing power with no strings attached.
The Senate voted to approve the deal Wednesday night, 81 to 18. More than half of Senate Republicans voted yea. The House came along hours later and approved the bill, 285 to 144, with 87 Republicans joining a united Democratic caucus in upholding the compromise legislation with only one day to spare to avoid a government default on its national debt.
A majority of Alabama’s congressional delegation voted against the bill to reopen the government and avoid default.
Republican Senators Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby voted against the compromise along with fellow Republicans in the House, Robert Aderholt, Mo Brooks, Martha Roby and Mike Rogers.
Roby said Wednesday she could not support a deal that increased the nation’s debt limit by half a trillion dollars without spending reforms, claiming in a statement that “ineffective strategy weakened Republicans’ bargaining position.”
Rogers said he could not support the compromise “because it is a just short-term fix, does not move our country in the right direction and does not address the very concerning shortfalls facing our National Security.”
Democrat Terri Sewell and Republican Spencer Bachus voted in favor of the bill.
Bachus, who recently announced he won’t seek reelection, said the country will continue to face disruptive crisis, “Unless we accomplish true entitlement reform.” He claimed Obamacare and Social Security Disability are the primary drivers of U.S. deficits and national debt, even though the Affordable Care Act was passed precisely to bring down rising health care costs and experts say it is working.
“I voted in favor of H.R. 2775, the bipartisan funding bill, because it was the only responsible thing to do to re-open government and pay our nation’s bills,” Congresswoman Sewell said. “I share the frustrations of millions of Americans who are fed up with the political brinkmanship in the halls of Congress. For the last 16 days, House Republicans have placed partisan politics ahead of the needs of the American people by allowing the government shutdown to continue due to their unreasonable demands to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. We do not put America’s full faith and credit in jeopardy to score political points.”
While she agreed that Congress must address the continuing debt crisis, she said “it is reckless and woefully irresponsible to do so at the expense of the American economy. There are no winners in this debacle. We all lose when 800,000 federal workers are furloughed, costing American taxpayers $300 million a day and diminishing our economic reputation globally. Enough is enough. Let’s reopen government and prevent an economic default so we can finally come to the table and deal with the pressing issues of deficit reduction and job creation.”
President Obama signed the compromise bill into law shortly after midnight, allowing parks and monuments across the nation to reopen Thursday morning, restoring government services and putting furloughed federal employees back on the job with back pay. The bill also contained some aid money for flood-ravaged Colorado and extra cash for fighting wildfires out West.
“Republicans and Democrats in Congress have come together around an agreement that will reopen our government and remove the threat of default from our economy,” President Obama said Wednesday night. “We can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease from our businesses and from the American people.”
Federal agencies are now funded through Jan. 15, when they might shut down again unless Congress resolves a continuing dispute over deep automatic spending cuts known as the sequester. Enforcement of the debt limit is suspended until Feb. 7, which of course sets up another confrontation in Congress over the national debt.
© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.