The partial U.S. government shutdown was in its third week before a compromise deal was reached. (Evan Vucci / AP)
Washington — Up against a deadline, Congress passed and sent a waiting President Barack Obama legislation late Wednesday night to averta threatened national default and end the 16-day partial government shutdown, the culmination of an epic political drama that placed the U.S. economy at risk.
The Senate voted first, a bipartisan 81-18 at midevening. That cleared the way for a final 285-144 vote in the Republican-controlled House about two hours later on the legislation, which hewed strictly to the terms Obama laid down when the twin crises erupted more than three weeks ago.
The legislation would permit the Treasury to borrow normally through Feb. 7 or perhaps a month longer, and fund the government through Jan. 15. More than 2 million federal workers would be paid — those who had remained on the job and those who had been furloughed.
At the White House, Obama hailed the vote and said once the measure reaches his desk, “I will sign it immediately. We’ll begin reopening our government immediately and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and the American people.”
Republicans conceded defeat after a long struggle. “We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,” conceded House Speaker John Boehner as lawmakers lined up to vote on a bill that includes nothing for Republicans demanding to eradicate or scale back Obama’s signature health care overhaul.
“We lost,” said U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, said of his Republican Party before voting in favor of the deal. “We didn’t enact the policies that we wanted but I think it’s time to move forward and fund the government and highlight the problems with Obamacare.”
“The compromise we reached will provide our economy with the stability it desperately needs,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, declaring that the nation “came to the brink of disaster” before sealing an agreement.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who negotiated the deal with Reid, emphasized that it preserved a round of spending cuts negotiated two years ago with Obama and Democrats. As a result, he said, “government spending has declined for two years in a row” for the first time since the Korean War. “And we’re not going back on this agreement,” he added.
Only a temporary truce, the measure set a timeframe of early next winter for the next likely clash between Obama and the Republicans over spending and borrowing.
But for now, government was lurching back to life. In one example, officials met to discuss plans for gearing back up at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where 307 employees remained at work during the partial shutdown and more than 8,000 were furloughed.
All of Michigan Democrats supported the deal, while Republicans were divided.
U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, disagreed with Camp in defeat, insisting Republicans were standing up for American principles.
“This final deal is not the kind of deal I was elected to vote for,” Amash said, who voted against the measure. “It’s a status quo deal. It’s a political deal and it doesn’t involve any real compromise.”
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, said his relief over the 11th hour agreement was tempered by his disappointment the tea party inflicted “an entirely unnecessary crisis.”
“There is no good reason that one faction of House Republicans has been indulged to the point where we are only narrowly averting disaster,” Levin said in a statement.
Michigan Democrats voting in favor were Levin and Debbie Stabenow; and U.S. Reps. John Dingell, John Conyers, Sander Levin, Gary Peters and Dan Kildee. House Republicans voting yes were Reps. Camp, Fred Upton, Mike Rogers and Dan Benishek. GOP members voting against the deal U.S. Reps. Amash, Candice Miller, Tim Walberg, Bill Huizenga and Kerry Bentivolio.
Wednesday’s self-congratulations notwithstanding, congressional talks are barely touching the underlying causes of debt-and-spending stalemates that pushed the country close to economic crises in 2011, last December and again this month.
At best, lawmakers and the White House will agree to fund the government and raise the debt limit for only a few months. They also will call for yet another bipartisan effort to address the federal debt’s major causes.
And yet, top advocates say they’ve seen virtually no change in the political dynamics that stymied past efforts for a compromise to end the cycle of brinksmanship.
“We’re probably going to have to go through this a few more times,” said Bob Bixby of the bipartisan Concord Coalition, which advocates budget reforms. Even if a compromise plan this month wins House, Senate and White House approval, Bixby said, it will leave fundamental problems that “they haven’t done anything to address.”
Henry J. Aaron, a Brookings Institution scholar who supports unprecedented legal action to avert future debt showdowns, agreed that three or four months of breathing room is a small victory.
Detroit News Staff Writer Marisa Schultz contributed