CAPITOL HILL —
Congress has put an end to three weeks of drama, deadlock and danger to the global economy as both the House and Senate passed a bill to re-open the federal government
and extend the government's credit limit just hours ahead of a possible default. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law in the early hours of Thursday as yet another U.S. budget crisis was resolved on the brink of disaster.
Federal workers were advised to return to work Thursday morning. The Smithsonian Institution - which includes most of the famous museums that line the National Mall in Washington, D.C. - tweeted that its facilities will be open Thursday, with the National Zoo to reopen on Friday.
The House vote came late Wednesday night after a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns on Capitol Hill and less than two hours before the credit extension deadline. The bill will keep the government running until at least January 15 and raise the borrowing limit enough to put off the risk of default until at least February 7. In the meantime, lawmakers will negotiate on spending cuts.
Details of the Deal
Reopens and funds the government until January 15, 2014
Raises the debt limit until February 7, 2014
Requires the government confirm the eligibility of people receiving federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act
Sets up negotiating committee to develop long term budget plan
Provides back pay to furloughed federal workers
The bill passed with mostly Democratic votes. Fewer than 90 Republicans voted for it, and none of the Republican House leaders came to the floor to speak in the final debate. The pressure had been on House Speaker John Boehner, who earlier in the day conceded that Republicans lost this round of a bitter standoff with Democratic President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate. Boehner spoke to WLW Radio in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.
“We have been locked in a fight over here, trying to bring government down to size, trying to do our best to stop Obamacare, we fought the good fight, we just did not win,” said Boehner.
House Democratic Minority leader Nancy Pelosi had been asking Boehner to bring a “clean” bill to the floor that would fund the government and extend the debt ceiling with no restrictions on either. She said House Democrats would help him pass it and end the shutdown. Pelosi had harsh words for Boehner and House Republicans for the damage caused to the U.S. economy and working Americans during the 16 days of a government shutdown.
“My colleagues, do you think that your recklessness was worth 24 billion dollars to our economy?” asked Pelosi, referencing an estimate by economists that the government shutdown has cost the U.S. economy an estimated 24 billion dollars.
House Republicans triggered the shutdown on October 1 by linking passage of a government funding bill to a provision to derail President Obama’s health care law. A core group of some 30-40 House Republicans, some closely aligned with the so-called Tea Party, strongly oppose the Affordable Care Act, along with a few Republican senators.
The bill that ends the standoff extends U.S borrowing authority into February, avoiding the potentially devastating consequences to the global economy from a default on the U.S. debt. The U.S. Treasury had said the credit limit needed to be raised by October 17 to guarantee that the United States can borrow enough money to pay its bills.
Earlier Wednesday evening, the Senate passed the same bill by a vote of 81 to 18, demonstrating strong bipartisan support to end the stalemate that had threatened to trigger a downgrade of the U.S. credit. The two votes paved the way for large parts of the U.S. government to reopen as early as Thursday.
Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel told VOA he hopes the shutdown and debt limit standoff has not caused lasting damage to the United States' standing in the world.
“We walked right up to the precipice, we did not jump over. I think if we had jumped over, God forbid, it would have had lasting damage. So I think that this is repairable,” said Engel.
Speaking after the Senate vote but before the House vote, President Obama thanked congressional leaders for coming together to get a deal done, and called on everyone to put the last three weeks behind them and move forward.
“We've got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis,” said Obama.
President Obama said that after being consumed by the budget crises in recent weeks, the White House and Congress can now turn their attention to pressing issues such as passing immigration reform and a farm bill. As part of the deal, House and Senate leaders also agreed to appoint members to a budget conference committee to tackle the divisive issues of spending priorities. That committee is set to start work Thursday.