Washington – With the help of votes from Connecticut’s lawmakers, Congress approved an 11th hour deal that raised the debt limit and reopened the federal government.
The agreement was approved by the Senate on a 81-18 vote Wednesday evening and by the House, 285-144.
President Obama said he would sign it immediately, and the government would reopen Thursday morning and stay open until Jan. 15. The deal also extends the nation’s borrowing authority until Feb. 7, pushing aside for now any danger of default.
Every single Democrat in the House and Senate voted for the agreement, including all members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation. It was one of the few times Connecticut’s Democratic House members were on the winning side of a vote in the GOP-controlled House.
“This pointless government shutdown, driven by an extremist faction in the House Republican Conference, cost American taxpayers close to $5 billion,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. “It drove kids out of Head Start, delayed home sales, removed intelligence analysts from their desks, shut down small businesses near national parks, and cut families from cancer treatments at the National Institutes of Health.”
The deal is seen as a defeat for conservative Republicans who insisted on a rollback of the Affordable Care Act in any bill that would fund the federal government or lift the debt limit.
Instead, the only thing the agreement would do to Obamacare is require better income verification for people who receive federal subsidies to purchase health insurance.
In the end, 27 Senate Republicans voted for the deal, as did 87 House Republicans, including members of the House leadership. These Republicans bucked the conservative and powerful Club for Growth and the Heritage Foundation, which urged them to oppose the plan.
But conservative Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, vowed to keep up the fight for changes to the health care law.
“Unfortunately, once again it appears the Washington establishment has refused to listen to the American people,” Cruz said.
Connecticut Democrats refrained from celebrations, preferring to cast the fiscal crisis that paralyzed Washington for nearly three weeks as a sobering experience.
“We have to avoid recriminations as we seek common ground,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “The House Republican leadership clearly lost, but there is no winner here.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said, “Nobody should be doing an end zone dance.”
But he could not resist a partisan dig. “After three weeks of shutdown, the Republican tea party has gotten nothing out of this deal, zilch, nada,” Murphy said.
The bill would provide retroactive pay to federal workers, who have been furloughed or worked without pay, and fund programs that have run out of money, like Head Start. Some states, including Connecticut, who have picked up the tab for these programs during the shutdown, are likely to get reimbursed by the appropriate federal agencies.
The White House echoed the conciliatory theme adopted by congressional Democrats.
“There are no winners here,” press secretary Jay Carney said at his daily briefing Wednesday. “We said that from the beginning, and we’re going to say it right up to the end because it’s true. The American people have paid a price for this.”
After the Senate vote, Obama promised to “begin re-opening our government immediately.”
“And we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease from our businesses and from the American people,” the president said.
In a statement, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, was less positive about the deal.
“While I am pleased that an agreement to end the shutdown has been reached, the fact remains that this is no way to run a government,” Malloy said in a statement. “We simply cannot go from one manufactured crisis to the next, and that’s all this does – put off the hard choices until a later date, so we can go through this nonsense again next year.”
He also accused House Republicans of pursuing a “fringe ideological agenda.”
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, whose knowledge of financial issues made him a favorite of CNN and other news networks during the crisis, said he is glad the compromise will prod Republican and Democrats to work together on a final budget bill. The Republican-led House and the Democratic-majority Senate both approved bills that would fund the federal government in fiscal year 2014, which began Oct. 1.
But the bills were widely different – the Senate bill did not contain across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester – but the House bill did, and would cut some programs even deeper. House Republicans have avoided negotiating with Senate Democrats on a final bill.
Then attempts to pass a short-term funding bill to prevent a government shutdown failed because the Senate rejected House bills that would have defunded or rolled back Obamacare.
“This pushes the GOP to (a budget) conference,” Himes said. ”It’s hard not to like this deal.”
The agreement – which would fund the federal government at current spending levels – contains the sequester cuts. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, has never voted for a bill that contains sequester cuts, because she says social programs bear the brunt of those cuts.
But, saying the fiscal crisis has hurt too many people, DeLauro supported the agreement.
“The American people deserve to have their government open for business, but to paraphrase the author T.S. Eliot: This is the way the shutdown ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper,” DeLauro said in a statement.
But she decried the continuation of sequestration cuts, saying they are “unwise and harmful to key government programs that benefit millions of Americans.”
And 5th District Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty also voted yes. “We need to end the shutdown and get people back to work,” she said.
Meeting with reporters after House Democrats held a closed meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss the deal, Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, said the shutdown and scare over the debt ceiling resulted in a “solemn moment for Congress.”
“We need to get home and listen to our constituents,” the veteran lawmaker said.
Polls showed that public support of Congress plummeted during the crisis, with the GOP taking a greater hit.
An earlier bipartisan deal shaping up in the Senate would have postponed for two years the so-called “belly-button tax” that big business and labor unions were scheduled to pay beginning next year to cover workers with health insurance.
The money collected from that tax, some $25 billion over three years, would go to a reinsurance fund to help health insurance companies manage the additional risk produced by the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that they cover sick people.
But the provision, pushed by Democrats on behalf of labor, was dropped from the final deal.