WASHINGTON – President Obama signed into law a measure ending the 16-day U.S. government shutdown and extending the nation’s borrowing authority until early next year, the White House said today in a statement.
The measure was passed by wide margins in the House and Senate last night, ending a weeks-long fiscal stalemate between the Obama administration and Republicans in Congress.
The bill passed on an 81-18 vote in the Democratic-led Senate, followed by a 285-144 vote in the Republican-controlled House.
U.S. government workers are to return to their jobs today, the White House Office of Management and Budget said last night in a statement.
Congressional Republicans conceded defeat Wednesday in their bitter budget fight with Obama over the new health care law as the House and Senate approved last-minute legislation ending a disruptive government shutdown and extending federal borrowing power to avert a financial default with potentially worldwide economic repercussions.
With the Treasury Department warning that it could run out of money to pay U.S. obligations within a day, the Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday evening to approve a proposal hammered out by the chamber’s Republican and Democratic leaders after the House on Tuesday was unable to move forward with any resolution. The House followed suit a few hours later to approve the Senate plan, which would fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit through Feb. 7.
Most House Republicans opposed the bill, but 87 voted to support it. The breakdown showed that Republican leaders were willing to violate their informal rule against advancing bills that do not have majority Republican support in order to end the shutdown. All 198 Democrats voting supported the measure.
The highlights of the bill:
• Government Shutdown: Ends it immediately, finances federal agencies through Jan. 15. Workers furloughed without pay when the shutdown began Oct. 1 receive back pay.
• Debt Ceiling: Government’s authority to borrow money extended until Feb. 7. Using streamlined procedures, Congress could vote to block the debt-limit extension, but that effort was certain to fail. No constraints on Treasury Department’s ability to move funds among accounts once debt limit is reached, in effect extending government’s ability to avoid default several weeks beyond Feb. 7 if needed.
• Health Care Law: Department of Health and Human Services must certify it can verify income eligibility of people applying for government subsidies for health insurance. By July 1, the department’s inspector general must report on the agency’s safeguards for preventing fraud.
• Long-Range Budget Issues: In accompanying agreement, House-Senate bargainers will negotiate over issues like budget deficits and spending levels. Bargainers must issue report by Dec. 13, but they are not required to come to agreement.
• Among Other Items: No pay raise for members of Congress in 2014; and provides an extra $294 million for Department of Veterans Affairs to reduce backlogs of benefits claims.
Shortly after the Senate vote, a relieved Obama said he would sign the measure as he soon as he received it. While he praised Congress, he said he hoped the damaging standoff would not be repeated.
“We’ve got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis,” said Obama, who urged Congress to proceed not only with new budget negotiations, but with immigration changes and a farm bill as well.
“We could get all these things done even this year, if everybody comes together in a spirit of, how are we going to move this country forward and put the last three weeks behind us.”
The result of the standoff that threatened the nation’s credit rating was a near total defeat for Republican conservatives, who had engineered the budget impasse as a way to strip the new health care law of funding even as registration for benefits opened Oct. 1 or, failing that, to win delays in putting the program into place.
“We fought the good fight,” Speaker John A. Boehner, who has struggled to control a conservative faction in the House, said in an interview with a Cincinnati radio station. “We just didn’t win.”
In a brief closed session with his Republican rank-and-file, Boehner told members to hold their heads high, go home, get some rest and think about how they could work better as a team.
But the bitterness was already festering. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., took a swipe at Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, as well as House members who linked further funding of the government to gutting the health care law, which is funded by its own designated revenues and spending cuts.
“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.”
But while Cruz conceded defeat, he did not express contrition.
“Unfortunately, the Washington establishment is failing to listen to the American people,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.