Senate reaches deal to end shutdown, avert default
By: Burgess Everett and Jake Sherman and Manu Raju
October 16, 2013 09:30 AM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will soon announce an agreement to reopen the government and avert default on U.S. debt, according to several sources familiar with the talks.
The leaders are expected to unveil the accord on the Senate floor at noon.
The House is prepared to move on the Senate’s bill first, sources say, a move that would clear a path to end the first government shutdown in 17 years and avoid an economy-shaking default on U.S. debt. House Republican leadership said there’s no decision yet on whether to move the bill first.
“No decision has been made about how or when a potential Senate agreement could be voted on in the House,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
It remains unclear when a final vote would occur in the Senate. If no senator blocks action there, that chamber could hold a vote before the House.
Sen. Ted Cruz, who led the crusade to dismantle the health care law in the government funding bill, declined to answer repeated questions from reporters Wednesday morning about whether he would block the deal.
But Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he felt lawmakers were ready to end the fiscal crisis that has consumed Capitol Hill for more than two weeks.
“If I had to guess, I think people are ready to vote,” Paul said.
If the House passes the bill first and sends it to the upper chamber, it would eliminate some burdensome procedural hurdles in the Senate and require just one procedural roll call with a 60-vote threshold needed to advance the bill toward final passage in the Senate.
It could be an extraordinarily risky play for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), because it’s far from clear any Senate proposal would garner the majority of the House Republican Conference. House Republicans have clung to the so-called Hastert Rule, a mantra that the House speaker should not try to pass a bill that doesn’t have the support of the “majority of the majority.” In this case, that would mean 117 Republicans must support the bill to avoid getting crosswise with the rule. Top GOP sources say it’s unlikely they will reach that level of support.
House Democratic leadership expects an overwhelming majority of its caucus will back the Senate deal.
Financial markets cheered news of an agreement. The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged more than 200 points on Wednesday morning.
The fact that House Republicans are now planning to go that route marks a stunning reversal for the speaker who had backed his conservative wing’s drive to gut Obamacare as part of the government shutdown fight, now in its third week.
It still is not assured that Congress will send President Barack Obama a bill to sign by Thursday, when the Treasury Department warns the country will start running out of cash to pay its bills. Any senator can also hold up the bill in the Senate past the Thursday deadline, but originating the legislation in the House is the fastest path toward passage for lawmakers and is a sign of urgency in the Capitol.
The bill will barely scathe Obamacare, however, and putting it on the floor will mark a huge concession by the House after sparking a 16-day government shutdown over insistence that the health care law be defunded or delayed as a condition to keep the government open. Dozens of conservatives in the House will be disappointed by the proposal and Boehner will need Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to deliver a bevy of votes to pass the bill.
The deal Reid (D-Nev.) and McConnell (R-Ky.) will announce will reopen the government through Jan. 15, lift the debt ceiling through Feb. 7 and develop a bicameral budget committee that would be required to develop a conference report by Dec. 13.
The plan includes a proposal offered by McConnell in the 2011 debt ceiling crisis that allows Congress to disapprove of the debt ceiling increase, which means lawmakers will formally vote on whether to reject of the debt ceiling increase until Feb. 7. Obama can veto that legislation if it passes. If Congress fails as expected to gather a two-thirds majority to override the veto, the debt ceiling would be raised.
The deal would also deliver back pay to furloughed federal workers, require income verification for people seeking health-insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act and also allow the Treasury Department to use extraordinary measures to pay the nation’s bills if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling by Feb. 7.
McConnell was pushing hard to include language to give federal agencies more flexibility to implement the sequester, something Reid was objecting to Wednesday morning, sources say. Democrats argue that provision would make it harder to eliminate the sequester in the future and it was not included in the final package. A new round of sequester cuts will be enacted in January without further congressional action, mostly hitting the defense side of spending.