WASHINGTON (CNN) — Weeks of bitter stalemate gave way to a frenetic few hours of legislative action Wednesday to address the federal government’s latest budgetary crisis — an episode marked by rare bipartisanship, but also the very real prospect of more fights to come.
The GOP-led House gave the final stamp of approval to the Senate-brokered bill, passing it easily late Wednesday night. But it wasn’t Republicans who made it happen; a majority of that party’s caucus actually voted against the measure, which only passed because of overwhelming Democratic support.
That deal includes a provision to provide back pay to furloughed federal workers, leadership and congressional sources tell Dana Bash and Kevin Bohn.
The legislation arrived at The While House at 11:50 p.m. (EST) for President Barack Obama’s signature.
“I will sign it immediately,” the President said. “We’ll begin reopening our government immediately.”
When he does, it will be just in time given warnings the federal government could have run out of money to pay its bills had Congress not acted to hike the so-called debt ceiling.
Assuming the president signs the bill on Wednesday night, federal workers should expect to return to work Thursday morning, the director of the Office of Management and Budget said Wednesday night.
“Now that the bill has passed the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, the president plans to sign it tonight and employees should expect to return to work in the morning, director Sylvia Mathews Burwell said. “Employees should be checking the news and OPM’s website for further updates.”
The bill extends the debt cushion through February 7, with current spending levels being authorized through January 15.
That means a few months of breathing room, but little more. After all, the bill doesn’t address many of the contentious and complicated issues — from changes to entitlement programs to tax reform — that continue to divide Democrats and Republicans.
“We think that we’ll be back here in January debating the same issues,” John Chambers, managing director of Standard and Poor’s rating service, told CNN on Wednesday night “… This is, I fear, a permanent feature of our budgetary process.”
The heads of the Senate and House budget committees — Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and GOP Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — will meet Thursday with an eye on addressing these budget divides. They’ll helm budget negotiations intended to come up with a broader spending plan for the rest of fiscal year 2014, which ends on September 30.
Obama, for one, didn’t seem in the mood Wednesday night for more of the same — saying politicians in Washington have to “get out of the habit of governing by crisis.”
“Hopefully, next time, it will not be in the 11th hour,” Obama told reporters, calling for both parties to work together on a budget, immigration reform and other issues.
When asked as he left the podium whether he believed America would be going through all this political turmoil again in a few months, the President didn’t waste words.
GOP, Democrats come together in Senate
The last few weeks, including the 16 days of the partial government shutdown, came at a steep cost. Standard and Poor’s estimated it took $24 billion out of the economy. The possibility of a debt default — something that, Chambers pointed out, is gone for now but not entirely — spooked investors on Wall Street and hiked interest rates.
And then there’s the impact the ordeal had on politicians’ image. If there’s one thing polls showed Americans agreed on, it’s that they don’t trust Congress — with Republicans bearing more blame than anyone else for what transpired.
Both sides talked past each other continuously, with Republicans insisting for a time that defunding, delaying or otherwise altering Obamacare must be part of any final deal. Democrats, meanwhile, stood pat in insisting they’d negotiate — but only after the passage of a spending bill and legislation to raise the debt without unnecessary add-ons.
In the end, Democrats largely got what they wanted — after some last-minute talks paced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“We’ve been able to come together for a lot of different reasons,” said Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
Republicans did get a small Obamacare concession: requiring the government to confirm the eligibility of people receiving federal subsidies under the health care program.
But while some Republicans, such as tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz claimed moral victories in energizing their movement, House Speaker John Boehner didn’t pretend his side was the victor.
“We fought the good fight; we just didn’t win,” Boehner told a radio station in his home state of Ohio.
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York blasted Cruz and the rest of the tea party wing in Congress for what he called the “reckless, irresponsible politics of brinksmanship over the last few weeks.”
“It was not America’s finest moment,” Schumer said.
Markets soar on agreement
News of the deal brought some relief to Wall Street as well as Washington, with pressure to resolve the impasse building with the approach of the Thursday deadline to raise the debt ceiling or face default.
U.S. stocks rose on the news of an agreement, with the benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average jumping more than 200 points on the day.
Reid hailed the agreement he worked out with McConnell as “historic,” saying that “in the end, political adversaries put aside their differences.”
McConnell fired an opening salvo for the budget talks expected to begin soon and continue until December when he said any ensuing spending deal should adhere to caps set in a 2011 law that included forced cuts known as sequestration.
“Preserving this law is critically important to the future of our country,” McConnell said of the Budget Control Act, which resulted from the previous debt ceiling crisis in Washington.
The focus on an agreement shifted to the Senate after House Republicans failed on Tuesday to come up with a plan their majority could support, stymied again by demands from tea party conservatives for outcomes unacceptable to Obama and Senate Democrats, as well as some fellow Republicans.
Cruz, despite being in the Senate, is credited with spearheading the House Republican effort to attach amendments that would dismantle or defund the health care reforms known as Obamacare to previous proposals intended to end the shutdown.
All were rejected by the Democratic-led Senate, and Obama also pledged to veto them, meaning there was no chance they ever would have succeeded.
Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire called the House GOP tactic of tying Obamacare to the shutdown legislation “an ill-conceived strategy from the beginning, not a winning strategy.”
However, Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa advocated continued brinksmanship to try to change Obamacare, which conservatives detest as a big-government overreach.
“If we’re not willing to take a stand now, then when will we take this stand?” he told CNN’s “New Day,” adding that if “the conservative Republican plan had been implemented five years ago, say at the inception of what is now the Obama presidency, we would have far less debt and deficit.”