It’s over, for now: Obama signs bill to end partial shutdown, hike debt ceiling
(CNN) — After all the bickering and grandstanding, the billions lost and trust squandered, it was much ado about nothing.
The partial government shutdown’s finally over. The debt ceiling debacle has been averted. Obamacare remains virtually unscathed.
The hardline House Republicans, whose opposition to the President’s signature healthcare law set this all in motion, got pretty much zip — except maybe their reputations marred.
“To say we as Republicans left a lot on the table would be one of the biggest understatements in American political history,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted.
But it’s all temporary — the cliched kicking of the can. In a few months, Congress will come back to fight the same battles.
For now, though, thousands of furloughed federal workers will return to work Thursday, the U.S. can pay its bills, and an economic superpower can again boast a functioning government.
Pundits will conduct a post-mortem of the bitter stalemate. And the public will look ahead to what’s next.
Everything came together Wednesday on a frenzied night of deadline deals. Lawmakers toiled through the night, coming precariously close to hitting the midnight debt ceiling deadline.
The Senate brokered a bill to end the 16-day-long shutdown and raise the debt limit. The GOP-led House passed it. And early Thursday morning, President Barack Obama signed it into law.
But it wasn’t Republicans who made it happen; a majority of that party’s caucus actually voted against the measure. The bill passed 285-144, with overwhelming Democratic support and the approval of about 80 House Republicans.
Had Congress not approved a debt limit increase, the government would have started running out of money to pay its bills. Social Security checks and veterans’ benefits could have stopped. The markets could have gone into a tailspin.
And now that Congress has approved a temporary spending plan, the government can re-emerge from its partial shutdown. More than 800,000 furloughed employees can start coming back to work. More than 1 million others who’ve been working without pay will see paychecks again.
Federal workers should expect to return to work Thursday morning, the Office of Management and Budget said.
A temporary bandage
The country will now be funded through January 15, and the debt cushion has been extended through February 7.
But there are clues the country will go through this mess again.
The bill that passed Wednesday night doesn’t address many of the contentious and complicated issues that continue to divide Democrats and Republicans, such as changes to entitlement programs to tax reform.
“We think that we’ll be back here in January debating the same issues,” John Chambers, managing director of Standard and Poor’s rating service, told CNN on Wednesday night. “This is, I fear, a permanent feature of our budgetary process.”
For what it’s worth, the heads of the Senate and House budget committees — Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and GOP Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — will meet Thursday to try to tackle these budget divides. They’ll head budget negotiations intended to come up with a broader spending plan for the rest of fiscal year 2014, which ends on September 30.
But Obama said he’s not in the mood for more of the same, saying politicians have to “get out of the habit of governing by crisis.”
“Hopefully, next time, it will not be in the 11th hour,” he told reporters, calling for both parties to work together on a budget, immigration reform and other issues.
A $24 billion battle
The partial government shutdown that lasted 16 days has come at a steep cost. Standard and Poor’s estimated it took a $24 billion bite out of the economy.
Then there’s the impact it had on politicians’ image. If there’s one thing polls showed Americans agreed on, it’s that they don’t trust Congress — with Republicans bearing more blame than anyone else for what transpired.
Both sides kept talking past each other, with Republicans insisting for a time that defunding, delaying or otherwise altering Obamacare must be part of any final deal. Democrats, meanwhile, stood firm in insisting they’d negotiate — but only after the passage of a spending bill and legislation to raise the debt without anti-Obamacare add-ons.
In the end, Democrats largely got what they wanted after some last-minute talks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Reid hailed the agreement he worked out with McConnell as “historic,” saying that “in the end, political adversaries put aside their differences.”
McConnell said any upcoming spending deal should adhere to caps set in a 2011 law that included forced cuts known as sequestration.
“Preserving this law is critically important to the future of our country,” McConnell said of the Budget Control Act, which resulted from the previous debt ceiling crisis in Washington.
Republicans did get a small Obamacare concession: requiring the government to confirm the eligibility of people receiving federal subsidies under the health care program.
While some Republicans, such as tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz, claimed moral victories in energizing their movement, House Speaker John Boehner didn’t even pretend his side came out victorious.
“We fought the good fight; we just didn’t win,” Boehner told a radio station in his home state of Ohio.
Cruz, despite being in the Senate, is credited with spearheading the House Republican effort to attach amendments that would dismantle or defund Obamacare.
All were rejected by the Democratic-led Senate, and Obama also pledged to veto them, meaning there was virtually no chance they ever would have succeeded.
Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire called the House GOP tactic of tying Obamacare to the shutdown legislation “an ill-conceived strategy from the beginning, not a winning strategy.”
Markets mixed after agreement
Wall Street sighed with relief. U.S. stocks rose Wednesday on the news of an agreement. The benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped more than 200 points on the day.
But world markets had a tepid reaction Thursday, with markets mixed in Asia.
“The U.S. is the largest economic power in the world, it’s not just about its own interest, but also affects the world economic stability,” the Chinese foreign ministry said. “China welcomes the progress and development of resolving the matter.”
The Senate’s Democratic leader said he never wants to go through the recent turmoil ever again.
“Let’s be honest: This was pain inflicted on our nation for no good reason, and we cannot make — we cannot, cannot make — the same mistake again,” Reid said Wednesday.
But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich predicts tea party and staunch conservatives in the GOP will be more energized after not getting the anti-Obamacare amendments they wanted.
“They will be more embittered, more angry. They will find more ways to go after Obama because they can’t find any way to get him to negotiate,” he said, adding that he expects Obamacare to become the defining issue of the next two elections cycles.
As Obama walked away from a press conference Wednesday night, he was asked whether he thought America would be going through this brouhaha again in a few months.
His answer: “No.”