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Congress votes to end shutdown, avoid US default

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio stops to talk to a group of students as he walks back into his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio stops to talk to a group of students as he walks back into his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. Photo by The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.

After the Senate approved the measure, Obama hailed the vote and said he would sign it immediately after it reached his desk. “We’ll begin reopening our government immediately and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and the American people.”

Later, 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 demand 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 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.

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. He received a prompt reminder, though.

“When the stakes are highest Mitch McConnell can always be counted on to sell out conservatives,” said Matt Bevin, who is challenging the party leader from the right in a 2014 election primary.

More broadly, national tea party groups and their allies underscored the internal divide. The Club for Growth urged lawmakers to vote against the congressional measure, and said it would factor in the organization’s decision when it decides which candidates to support in midterm elections next year.

“There are no significant changes to Obamacare, nothing on the other major entitlements that are racked with trillions in unfunded liabilities, and no meaningful spending cuts either. If this bill passes, Congress will kick the can down the road, yet again,” the group said.

Even so, support for Boehner appeared solid inside his fractious rank and file. “There are no plots, plans or rumblings that I know of. And I was part of one in January, so I’d probably be on the whip list for that,” said Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out in favor of the bill.

Simplicity at the end, there was next to nothing in the agreement beyond authorization for the Treasury to resume borrowing and funding for the government to reopen.

House and Senate negotiators are to meet this fall to see if progress is possible on a broad deficit-reduction compromise of the type that has proved elusive in the current era of divided government.

Additionally, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is to be required to produce a report stating that her agency is capable of verifying the incomes of individuals who apply for federal subsidies under the health care law known as Obamacare.

Obama had insisted repeatedly he would not pay “ransom” by yielding to Republican demands for significant changes to the health care overhaul in exchange for funding the government and permitting Treasury the borrowing latitude to pay the nation’s bills.

Other issues fell by the wayside in a final deal, including a Republican proposal for the suspension of a medical device tax in Obamacare and a Democratic call to delay a fee on companies for everyone who receives health coverage under an employer-sponsored plan.

The gradual withering of Republicans’ Obamacare-related demands defined the arc of the struggle that has occupied virtually all of Congress’ time for the past three weeks.

The shutdown began on Oct. 1 after Cruz and his tea party allies in the House demanded the defunding of the health care law as a trade for providing essential government funding.

Obama and Reid refused, then refused again and again as Boehner gradually scaled back Republican demands.

The shutdown initially idled about 800,000 workers, but that soon fell to about 350,000 after Congress agreed to let furloughed Pentagon employees return to work. While there was widespread inconvenience, the mail was delivered, Medicare continued to pay doctors who treated seniors and there was no interruption in Social Security benefits.

Still, national parks were closed to the detriment of tourists and local businesses, government research scientists were sent home and Food and Drug Administration inspectors worked only sporadically.

Obama and Boehner both came to the same conclusion — that they would allow the shutdown to persist for two weeks, until it became politically possible to reopen government and address the threat of default at the same time.

As Republican polls sank, Boehner refused to let the House vote on legislation to reopen the entire government, insisting on a piecemeal approach that the White House and Reid rejected as insufficient.

As the Oct. 17 debt-limit deadline approached, there were warnings from European officials as well as Cabinet members and bankers in this country that failure to raise the debt limit invited an economic disaster far worse than the near-meltdown of 2008.

On Tuesday, the Fitch credit rating agency said it was reviewing its AAA rating on U.S. government debt for possible downgrade.

By then, the endgame was underway.

Late last week, Obama met with Boehner and House Republicans at the White House. The session resulted in brief follow-up talks in which GOP aides suggested easing the across-the-board spending cuts in exchange for changes in benefit programs such as making Medicare more expensive for better-off beneficiaries.

After that faltered, Reid and McConnell announced over the weekend they were seeking a deal to solve the crises, and expressed hope they could quickly come to an agreement.

That effort was suspended on Tuesday, a day of suspense in which Boehner made one last stab at a conservatives’ solution. When his rank and file refused to coalesce around any proposal, he gave up and McConnell and Reid returned to their labors.

House Roll Call: How your rep voted on ending the shutdown

Earlier coverage, posted at 6:19 p.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Up against one last deadline, Congress raced to pass legislation Wednesday avoiding a threatened national default and ending a 16-day partial government shutdown along the strict terms set by President Barack Obama when the twin crises began.

"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 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.

A Senate vote was set first on the legislation, which would permit the Treasury to borrow normally through Feb. 7 or perhaps a month longer, and fund the government through Jan. 15. More than two million federal workers — those who had remained on the job and those who had been furloughed — would be paid under the agreement.

Across the Capitol, members of the House marked time until their turn came to vote.

Only a temporary truce, the measure set a timeframe 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.

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.

"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.

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. He received a prompt reminder, though.

"When the stakes are highest Mitch McConnell can always be counted on to sell out conservatives," said Matt Bevin, who is challenging the party leader from the right in a 2014 election primary.

More broadly, national tea party groups and their allies underscored the internal divide. The Club for Growth urged lawmakers to vote against the congressional measure, and said it would factor in the organization's decision when it decides which candidates to support in midterm elections next year.

"There are no significant changes to Obamacare, nothing on the other major entitlements that are racked with trillions in unfunded liabilities, and no meaningful spending cuts either. If this bill passes, Congress will kick the can down the road, yet again," the group said.

Even so, support for Boehner appeared solid inside his fractious rank and file. "There are no plots, plans or rumblings that I know of. And I was part of one in January, so I'd probably be on the whip list for that," said Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out in favor of the bill.

Simplicity at the end, there was next to nothing in the agreement beyond authorization for the Treasury to resume borrowing and funding for the government to reopen.

House and Senate negotiators are to meet this fall to see if progress is possible on a broad deficit-reduction compromise of the type that has proved elusive in the current era of divided government.

Additionally, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is to be required to produce a report stating that her agency is capable of verifying the incomes of individuals who apply for federal subsidies under the health care law known as Obamacare.

Obama had insisted repeatedly he would not pay "ransom" by yielding to Republican demands for significant changes to the health care overhaul in exchange for funding the government and permitting Treasury the borrowing latitude to pay the nation's bills.

Other issues fell by the wayside in a final deal, including a Republican proposal for the suspension of a medical device tax in Obamacare and a Democratic call to delay a fee on companies for everyone who receives health coverage under an employer-sponsored plan.

The gradual withering of Republicans' Obamacare-related demands defined the arc of the struggle that has occupied virtually all of Congress' time for the past three weeks.

The shutdown began on Oct. 1 after Cruz and his tea party allies in the House demanded the defunding of the health care law as a trade for providing essential government funding.

Obama and Reid refused, then refused again and again as Boehner gradually scaled back Republican demands.

The shutdown initially idled about 800,000 workers, but that soon fell to about 350,000 after Congress agreed to let furloughed Pentagon employees return to work. While there was widespread inconvenience, the mail was delivered, Medicare continued to pay doctors who treated seniors and there was no interruption in Social Security benefits.

Still, national parks were closed to the detriment of tourists and local businesses, government research scientists were sent home and Food and Drug Administration inspectors worked only sporadically.

Obama and Boehner both came to the same conclusion — that they would allow the shutdown to persist for two weeks, until it became politically possible to reopen government and address the threat of default at the same time.

As Republican polls sank, Boehner refused to let the House vote on legislation to reopen the entire government, insisting on a piecemeal approach that the White House and Reid rejected as insufficient.

As the Oct. 17 debt-limit deadline approached, there were warnings from European officials as well as Cabinet members and bankers in this country that failure to raise the debt limit invited an economic disaster far worse than the near-meltdown of 2008.

On Tuesday, the Fitch credit rating agency said it was reviewing its AAA rating on U.S. government debt for possible downgrade.

By then, the endgame was underway.

Late last week, Obama met with Boehner and House Republicans at the White House. The session resulted in brief follow-up talks in which GOP aides suggested easing the across-the-board spending cuts in exchange for changes in benefit programs such as making Medicare more expensive for better-off beneficiaries.

After that faltered, Reid and McConnell announced over the weekend they were seeking a deal to solve the crises, and expressed hope they could quickly come to an agreement.

That effort was suspended on Tuesday, a day of suspense in which Boehner made one last stab at a conservatives' solution. When his rank and file refused to coalesce around any proposal, he gave up and McConnell and Reid returned to their labors.

Earlier coverage, posted at 12:34 p.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate leaders announced last-minute agreement Wednesday to avert a threatened Treasury default and reopen the government after a partial, 16-day shutdown. Congress raced to pass the measure by day’s end.

The Dow Jones industrial average soared on the news that the threat of default was fading, flirting with a 200-point gain in morning trading.

“This is a time for reconciliation,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of the agreement he had forged with the GOP leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

McConnell said that with the accord, Republicans had sealed a deal to have spending in one area of the budget decline for two years in a row, adding, “we’re not going back.”

One prominent tea party lawmaker, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, said he would oppose the plan, but not seek to delay its passage.

That was a key concession that signaled a strong possibility that both houses could act by day’s end. That, in turn, would allow President Barack Obama to sign the bill into law ahead of the Thursday deadline that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew had set for action to raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit.

Officials said the proposal called for the Treasury to have authority to continue borrowing through Feb. 7, and the government would reopen through Jan. 15.

There was no official comment from the White House, although congressional officials said administration aides had been kept fully informed of the negotiations.

In political terms, the final agreement was almost entirely along lines Obama had set when the impasse began last month. Tea party conservatives had initially demanded the defunding of the health care law as the price for providing essential federal funding.

Under a strategy set by Obama and Reid, Democrats said they would not negotiate with Republicans in exchange for performing what the White House called basic functions of keeping the government in operation and preventing Treasury from defaulting on its obligations.

A long line of polls charted a steep decline in public approval for Republicans in the course of what Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pronounced a “shameful episode” in the nation’s history.

While the emerging deal could well meet resistance from conservatives in the Republican-controlled House, the Democratic Leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, has signaled she will support the plan and her rank and file is expected to vote for it in overwhelming numbers.

That raised the possibility that more Democrats than Republicans would back it, potentially causing additional problems for House Speaker John Boehner as he struggles to manage his tea party-heavy majority.

Boehner and the House Republican leadership met in a different part of the Capitol to plan their next move. A spokesman, Michael Steel, said afterward that no decision had been made “about how or when a potential Senate agreement could be voted on in the House.”

The developments came one day before the deadline Lew had set for Congress to raise the current $16.7 trillion debt limit. Without action by lawmakers, he said, Treasury could not be certain it had the ability to pay bills as they come due.

In addition to raising the debt limit, the proposal would give lawmakers a vote to disapprove the increase. Obama would have the right to veto their opposition, ensuring he would prevail.

House and Senate negotiators would be appointed to seek a deficit-reduction deal. At the last minute, Reid and McConnell jettisoned a plan to give federal agencies increased flexibility in coping with the effects of across-the-board cuts. Officials said that would be a topic for the negotiations expected to begin shortly.

Despite initial Republican demands for the defunding of the health care law often derided as “Obamacare,” the pending agreement makes only one modest change in the program. It requires individuals and families seeking subsidies to purchase coverage to verify their incomes before qualifying.

There were some dire warnings from the financial world a day after the Fitch credit rating agency said Tuesday it was reviewing its AAA rating on U.S. government debt for possible downgrade.

John Chambers, chairman of Standard & Poor’s Sovereign Debt Committee, told “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday that a U.S. government default on its debts would be “much worse than Lehman Brothers,” the investment firm whose 2008 collapse led to the global financial crisis.

Aides to Reid and McConnell said the two men had resumed talks, including a Tuesday night conversation, and were hopeful about striking an agreement that could pass both houses.

It was expected to mirror a deal the leaders had neared Monday. That agreement was described as extending the debt limit through Feb. 7, immediately reopening the government fully and keeping agencies running until Jan. 15 — leaving lawmakers clashing over the same disputes in the near future.

It also set a mid-December deadline for bipartisan budget negotiators to report on efforts to reach compromise on longer-term issues like spending cuts. And it likely would require the Obama administration to certify that it can verify the income of people who qualify for federal subsidies for medical insurance under the 2010 health care law.

But that emerging Senate pact was put on hold Tuesday, an extraordinary day that highlighted how unruly rank-and-file House Republicans can be, even when the stakes are high. Facing solid Democratic opposition, Boehner tried in vain to write legislation that would satisfy GOP lawmakers, especially conservatives.

Boehner crafted two versions of the bill, but neither made it to a House vote because both faced certain defeat. Working against him was word during the day from the influential group Heritage Action for America that his legislation was not conservative enough — a worrisome threat for many GOP lawmakers whose biggest electoral fears are of primary challenges from the right.

The last of Boehner’s two bills had the same dates as the emerging Senate plan on the debt limit and shutdown.

But it also blocked federal payments for the president, members of Congress and other officials to help pay for their health care coverage. And it prevented the Obama administration from shifting funds among different accounts — as past Treasury secretaries have done — to let the government keep paying bills briefly after the federal debt limit has been reached.

Boehner’s inability to produce a bill that could pass his own chamber likely means he will have to let the House vote on a Senate compromise, even if that means it would pass with strong Democratic and weak GOP support. House Republican leaders have tried to avoid that scenario for fear that it would threaten their leadership, and some Republicans worried openly about that.

Earlier coverage, posted at 10:20 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate leaders reached agreement Wednesday to avert a threatened Treasury default and reopen the government after a partial, 16-day shutdown, according to a Republican senator who also said the House might vote first on the plan to speed its approval.

The New York Stock Exchange soared on the news that the threat of default was easing in, rising nearly 200 points by late morning.

"I understand they've come to an agreement but I'm going to let the leader announce that," Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said as she walked into a meeting of Senate Republicans called to review details of the emerging deal struck by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and GOP Leader Mitch McConnell.

Officials said the proposal called for the Treasury to have authority to continue borrowing through Feb. 7, and the government would reopen through Jan. 15.

Speaker John Boehner and the House Republican leadership met in a different part of the Capitol to plan their next move.

The developments came one day before the deadline Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had set for Congress to raise the current $16.7 trillion debt limit. Without action by lawmakers, he said, Treasury could not be certain it had the ability to pay bills as they come due.

In addition to raising the debt limit, the proposal would give lawmakers a vote to disapprove the increase. President Barack Obama would have the right to veto their opposition, ensuring he would prevail.

House and Senate negotiators would be appointed to seek a deficit-reduction deal, but there is no provision for federal agencies to have increased flexibility in coping with the effects of across-the-board cuts.

Despite initial Republican demands for the defunding of the health care law known as Obamacare, the pending agreement makes only one modest change in the program. It requires individuals and families seeking subsidies to purchase coverage to verify their incomes before qualifying.

There were some dire warnings from the financial world a day after the Fitch credit rating agency said it was reviewing its AAA rating on U.S. government debt for possible downgrade.

John Chambers, chairman of Standard & Poor's Sovereign Debt Committee, told "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday that a U.S. government default on its debts would be "much worse than Lehman Brothers," the investment firm whose 2008 collapse led to the global financial crisis.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett told CNBC he doesn't think the federal government will fail to pay its bills, but "if it does happen, it's a pure act of idiocy."

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a tea party favorite, said he was not worried about the prospect of a U.S. default.

"We are going to service our debt," he told CNN. "But I am concerned about all the rhetoric around this ....I'm concerned that it will scare the markets."

Aides to Reid and McConnell said the two men had resumed talks, including a Tuesday night conversation, and were hopeful about striking an agreement that could pass both houses.

It was expected to mirror a deal the leaders had neared Monday. That agreement was described as extending the debt limit through Feb. 7, immediately reopening the government fully and keeping agencies running until Jan. 15 — leaving lawmakers clashing over the same disputes in the near future.

It also set a mid-December deadline for bipartisan budget negotiators to report on efforts to reach compromise on longer-term issues like spending cuts. And it likely would require the Obama administration to certify that it can verify the income of people who qualify for federal subsidies for medical insurance under the 2010 health care law.

But that emerging Senate pact was put on hold Tuesday, an extraordinary day that highlighted how unruly rank-and-file House Republicans can be, even when the stakes are high. Facing solid Democratic opposition, Boehner tried in vain to write legislation that would satisfy GOP lawmakers, especially conservatives.

Boehner crafted two versions of the bill, but neither made it to a House vote because both faced certain defeat. Working against him was word during the day from the influential group Heritage Action for America that his legislation was not conservative enough — a worrisome threat for many GOP lawmakers whose biggest electoral fears are of primary challenges from the right.

The last of Boehner's two bills had the same dates as the emerging Senate plan on the debt limit and shutdown.

But it also blocked federal payments for the president, members of Congress and other officials to help pay for their health care coverage. And it prevented the Obama administration from shifting funds among different accounts — as past Treasury secretaries have done — to let the government keep paying bills briefly after the federal debt limit has been reached.

Boehner's inability to produce a bill that could pass his own chamber likely means he will have to let the House vote on a Senate compromise, even if that means it would pass with strong Democratic and weak GOP support. House Republican leaders have tried to avoid that scenario for fear that it would threaten their leadership, and some Republicans worried openly about that.

"Of all the damage to be done politically here, one of the greatest concerns I have is that somehow John Boehner gets compromised," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a former House member and a Boehner supporter.

With the default clock ticking ever louder, it was possible the House might vote first on a plan produced by Senate leaders. For procedural reasons, that could speed the measure's trip through Congress by removing some parliamentary barriers Senate opponents might erect.

The strains of the confrontation were showing among GOP lawmakers.

"It's time to reopen the government and ensure we don't default on our debt," Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., said in a written statement. "I will not vote for poison pills that have no chance of passing the Senate or being signed into law."

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