Senators from both political parties reached an agreement today on a plan to reopen government and, at least for the time being, avoid ruining the United States’ credit rating.
The bill, drafted on the eve of the October 17 deadline to raise the nation’s borrowing capacity, and into the third week of the government shut down, includes very little of what Republicans hoped to achieve. The only real concession the Republicans gained in the bill is language that requires income verification for Obamacare participants receiving federal subsidies.
The bill is expected to pass the Senate today and many believe it will also pass the exhausted and embattled House of Representatives, after which it is almost certain that President Obama will sign it into law, thus – at least temporarily – ending the chaos that discord on Capitol Hill has inflicted on Americans far and wide, but particularly on those who work for the Federal government.
Though Senators and Representatives from both parties were quick to say that the bill represents a necessary effort at finding political common ground, it is largely seen as a defeat for Republicans, particularly those on the more conservative side of the party.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas who has been pushing efforts to defund Obamacare by forcing the federal government shutdown and discouraging raising the debt ceiling, announced that he would not block the bill’s passage, but only because he believes that stalling will not make the bill any more palatable.
“The deal that has been cut provides no relief for the millions of Americans who are hurting because of Obamacare,” said Senator Ted Cruz. “I have no objections to the timing of this vote and the reason is simple: there is nothing to be gained from delaying this vote one day or two days. The outcome will be the same.”
But other prominent Republicans were more conciliatory:
“This is far less than many of us had hoped for, frankly, but it is far better than what some had sought,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
McConnell lamented that the agreement would not seriously address Obamacare and he vowed to keep fighting against the law.
Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, was more direct in his criticism of Cruz and those who supported the government shut down. “Let’s just say sometimes learning what can’t be accomplished is an important long-term thing,” Burr said, “and hopefully for some of the members they’ve learned it’s impossible to defund mandatory programs by shutting down the federal government.”
Republicans were also quick to point out that the Senate bill offers no long term solutions, calling it yet another example of Congress “kicking the can” down the road.
So what will the Senate bill do?
- Fund the Government until January 15
- Pay America’s bills until February 7 (aka, raise the debt ceiling)
- Require a bipartisan group to meet to create a blueprint for the next decade’s tax and spending policies, with a December 13 deadline
- Require income verification for Obamacare participants who receive federal subsidies
And what will it not do?
- Defund or dramatically alter Obamacare
- Address Republicans’ long-term spending and deficit concerns
- Create a comprehensive federal budget or provide for any solutions beyond the first week of February 2014
- Alter in any way the draconian cuts imposed by the sequester
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said that President Obama supports the compromise reached by the Senate leaders, and that he hopes lawmakers in both chambers will pass it quickly.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the “important agreement” on the floor of the Senate.
“The eyes of the world have been on Washington all this week and that is a gross understatement,” Reid said. “The compromise we reached will provide our economy with the stability it desperately needs.”
However, FreedomWorks, one of many conservative groups pressuring lawmakers to defund Obamacare, said the bill would do “nothing to shield the rest of America from a law that is being unfairly implemented and is rapidly proving unworkable.”
And the bill would only fund the government through January 15 and only raise the debt ceiling until February 7, meaning that the nation could go through the same fight all over again at the beginning of the new year. It is, as all sides admit, only a temporary fix.
But it does come just one day before the Treasury Department’s debt ceiling deadline. After October 17 Treasury Department officials have warned that the U.S. will be running dangerously low on money and will run the risk of a defaulting on government bond payments – an outcome that economists said would have been catastrophic.
Without the debt ceiling being raised, a phrase that essentially means increasing the amount of money the U.S. is allowed to borrow, the Treasury Department would have to pay bills with an estimated $30 billion in cash, plus whatever daily revenue comes in.
Most experts say the U.S. would be able to pay bills for a short time after Thursday, but how long is unclear. At some point government officials would have to pick and choose which bills to pay and which to leave for another day, a prospect that could throw the entire world financial market into upheaval.
Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, showed approval for the bipartisan plan, but was hardly celebratory:
“I think it’s obvious that we are now seeing the end of this agonizing odyssey that this body has been put through, but far more importantly the American people have been put through,” he said on the Senate floor. “It’s one of the more shameful chapters that I have seen in the years that I have spent here in the Senate.”