Congress Votes to End Impasse, Lift Debt Ceiling

October 16, 2013 05:42 PM
Congress Votes to End Impasse, Lift Debt Ceiling

The U.S. Congress voted Wednesday night to halt the 16-day government shutdown and raise the U.S. debt limit, ending the nation’s fiscal impasse.

The House of Representatives voted 285-144 to clear a measure that now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature. House Republicans split, with 87 in favor and 144 opposed. All 198 Democrats who were present voted yes. The House vote came less than three hours after the Senate passed the bill, 81-18.

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Obama planned to sign the bill Wednesday night and federal employees should expect to return to work Thursday, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement.

"Once this agreement arrives on my desk, I will sign it immediately," Obama said tonight at the White House. "We’ll begin reopening our government immediately and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and from the American people."

Congress acted the day before U.S. borrowing authority was scheduled to lapse as lawmakers engaged in their fourth round of fiscal brinkmanship in less than three years.

The agreement will put federal workers back on the job, prevent a potential default on U.S. debt and make no major policy changes sought by Republicans. Lawmakers didn’t resolve their long-term divides on fiscal policy and will have to return to the same issues over the next four months.

The four-week fiscal standoff began with Republicans demanding defunding of Obama’s 2010 health-care law and objecting to raising the debt limit and financing the government without policy conditions.


‘Didn’t Win’


"We fought the good fight," House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said today on Cincinnati’s WLW, a radio station in his home state of Ohio. "We just didn’t win."

The agreement negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will fund the government at Republican-backed spending levels through Jan. 15, 2014, and suspend the debt limit through Feb. 7, setting up another round of confrontations then.

All of the votes against the proposal in the Senate were from Republicans. One senator, Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma, was absent.

The Senate accord was unveiled a day after Fitch Ratings put the U.S. AAA credit grade on ratings watch negative, citing the government’s inability to raise the debt ceiling in a timely manner, according to a statement after markets in New York closed yesterday.


Stocks Rallied


U.S. stocks rallied, sending the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index toward a record. The benchmark index rose 1.4 percent to 1,721.47 at 4 p.m. in New York after sliding 0.7 percent yesterday. S&P 500 Index futures added 0.1 percent after the gauge closed within 0.3 percent of a record in New York.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index climbed 0.7 percent, heading for the highest close in five months. Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures were little changed after the gauge closed within 0.3 percent of a record in New York. The Bloomberg U.S. Dollar Index, which tracks the greenback against 10 major peers, weakened 0.1 percent. The yield on 10-year Treasuries dropped one basis point to 2.65 percent.

The partial shutdown closed national parks, slowed clinical drug trials and led to the furlough of thousands of federal workers. The Senate plan will provide back pay for furloughed workers.


$24 Billion


The shutdown took at least $24 billion out of the U.S. economy, S&P said in a report today.

"I do not come here to pin a rose on this legislation," said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader. "It does have my support as a means to an end."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest business group, supported the agreement, along with the Business Roundtable, an association of large-company chief executives. Several small-government groups, including the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America, urged lawmakers to vote against the accord.

"After two long weeks, it’s time to end the government shutdown," said Representative Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "It’s time to take the threat of default off the table. It’s time to restore some sanity to this place. To do this, we’ve all got to give a little."

House Republicans met for about 30 minutes today, and Boehner didn’t speak to reporters as he left the session. The speaker received a standing ovation at the meeting, said Representative Lynn Westmoreland, a Georgia Republican.


Republican Priorities


Under the Senate agreement, House Republicans achieved almost none of their priorities.

"This is pain inflicted on our nation for no good reason," Reid said after the vote. "We cannot make the same mistake again."

Republicans persisted after the partial government shutdown started Oct. 1 and their approval ratings dropped in polls. Hard-liners resisted plans that didn’t make major changes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Obama described those requests for health-law changes as unacceptable ransom demands and insisted that Republicans relent.

Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, questioned some other Republicans’ approach to the health law.

"If they’re saying the defunding issue is going to come up again in three months, then they’ve learned nothing from this," she said. "I hope we learned that we shouldn’t get behind a strategy that cannot succeed."


Senator Cruz


Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who spoke against the health law for 21 hours last month, said on the Senate floor before the vote tonight that the deal "embodies everything that frustrates the American people about Washington."

Representative Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said Republicans will turn to oversight of the implementation of the health-care law.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012, voted against the plan, as did Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie.

"I have one vote," Massie said before the vote. "I am going to vote no."

The Senate agreement trades the pressing and already-missed deadlines for new ones over the next four months. The Treasury Department would be allowed to use so-called extraordinary measures to delay default for three to four weeks beyond Feb. 7, said a Senate Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the plan.


Budget Negotiations


"It would appear as though we’re kicking the can down the road one more time," Representative Jim Bridenstine, an Oklahoma Republican, said in an interview. "It’s a problem. Neither side is negotiating so we kicked the can and now we’re going to have to deal with it."

The Senate and House will also begin budget negotiations with a Dec. 13 deadline. The first meeting of the negotiators will occur tomorrow morning.

The bill authorizes more than $1 billion for a dam project on the Illinois-Kentucky border. Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said in an e-mail that appropriators, not the minority leader from Kentucky, requested the project.

Reid said the provision would save the government money.

The measure includes as much as $450 million for repairs to wildfire damage in Colorado. It also would freeze the pay of members of Congress.


Government Subsidies


A Republican-backed provision in the agreement requires Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to certify that the government is able to verify the incomes of people who apply for government subsidies to help pay their insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act.

Sebelius would have to submit a report by Jan. 1, 2014, on the income verification process. The inspector general for Sebelius’s department would have to issue a report on the effectiveness of the process by July 1, 2014.

"I think it would be a great American tragedy if we had the same thing happen in three or four months," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. "I don’t think a lot of people understand what’s happened to the average person in all of this."

The bill is HR 2775.

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