Sixteen days after the U.S. federal government shutdown resulted in the furlough of more than 700,000 workers and with less than 24 hours remaining before a critical funding deadline passed, the U.S. Senate has announced a deal that will end the closure and avert default but require a review of the debt ceiling again on February 7 2014.
Shortly after noon on Wednesday Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell announced a compromise that was expected to pass in the upper house of Congress and then face a vote in the House of Representatives where Republicans, facing a wall of national criticism for seeking to tie debt negotiations to their plans to defund “Obamacare,” saw two separate proposals fail on Tuesday.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew earlier warned that if Congress could not come to an agreement on raising the debt ceiling that would also win President Barack Obama’s support, government funds would be exhausted “no later than October 17,” after which point there would be a real risk of default.
Republicans face fire for shutdown
At the heart of the compromise proposal announced in the Senate today only one minor concession to conservatives’ demands was made, an anti-fraud measure that requires stricter vetting of income qualifications for those who would seek to benefit from the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Obama’s landmark reform of the healthcare industry.
While the Dow Jones jumped as news of the deal broke, it also unleashed a barrage of criticism against House Republicans who many observers said “could have had this deal on Day One,” and avoided a lengthy government shutdown that carried a billion-dollars-a-week price tag. During this time the conservatives seen as responsible for the closure lost twenty points in some opinion polls.
While the Senate bill announced today by Mr. Reid and Mr. McConnell extends government financing until January 15 and puts off the prospect of another debt ceiling breach until February 7, it allows for closer review of those who participate in healthcare insurance exchanges, a key element of the rollout of the ACA that kicked in earlier this month.
Other demands that a group of fiscal conservatives in the House had made, including avoiding a tax on medical devices, denying the individual mandate and defunding other parts of the ACA, did not make it to the final cut, underscoring questions about whether this had been a “disastrous” misadventure by some members of the lower house.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate both Mr. Reid and Mr. McConnell however expressed hope that the spirit of compromise may trump the bitter partisanship that had gripped Capitol Hill over the last few weeks.
Mr Reid said that the compromise reached will provide the U.S. with “the stability it desperately needs,” and thanked Mr. McConnell for helping bridge the divide that “seemed too wide to cross.” He added that a Budget Conference Committee would take up a more detailed discussion of deficit reduction going forward and was “optimistic that spirit of compromise that has taken hold of the Senate in recent days will endure.”
Mr. McConnell similarly said, “Once we have gotten past the drama of the moment, we can get to work” on the proposal’s details, although he reiterated Republican opposition to “Obamacare” and described it as a “terrible law” that killed American jobs.