Congress passes deal to reopen government, bill heads to President Obama

Wednesday - 10/16/2013, 10:46pm EDT

By ALAN FRAM
and DONNA CASSATA
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate and House both voted Wednesday night, passing a bill (H.R. 2775) that reopens the government and funds agencies through Jan. 15, permits the Treasury to borrow normally through Feb. 7, and provides back pay for federal employees furloughed during the 16-day government shutdown. The bill now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature, which he has said he will sign immediately.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 81-18, while the House voted 285-144 in favor of the bill.

When exactly federal employees will be expected back to work is still unclear.

After Congress approves a funding bill, the furloughed employee is "expected to return to work on your next regular duty day," according to a sample furlough notice the Office of Personnel Management has provided to agencies. However, individual agencies should also exercise their own discretion, OPM said in its official shutdown guidance.

Earlier in the night at the White House, Obama hailed the Senate's vote and encouraged the House to follow suit. Once the measure reaches his desk, he said, "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."

Less than an hour later, as debate began in the House, Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said, "After two long weeks, it is time to end this government shutdown. It's time to take the threat of default off the table. It's time to restore some sanity to this place."

Republicans conceded defeat after a long struggle. "We fought the good fight. We just didn't win," said House Speaker John Boehner as lawmakers lined up to vote on a bill that includes nothing for GOP lawmakers who had demand to eradicate or scale back Obama's signature health care overhaul.

"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 time frame of early 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.

After weeks of gridlock, the measure had support from the White House, most if not all Democrats in Congress and many Republicans fearful of the economic impact of a default.

Boehner and the rest of the top GOP leadership told their rank and file they would vote for the measure, and there was little or no doubt it would pass both houses and reach the White House in time for Obama's signature before the administration's 11:59 p.m. Oct. 17 deadline.

That was when Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the government would reach the current $16.7 trillion debt limit and could no longer borrow to meet its obligations.

Tea party-aligned lawmakers who triggered the shutdown that began on Oct. 1 said they would vote against the legislation. Significantly, though, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and others agreed not to use the Senate's cumbersome 18th-century rules to slow the bill's progress.

In remarks on the Senate floor, Cruz said the measure was "a terrible deal" and criticized fellow Republicans for lining up behind it.

House and Senate negotiators are to meet this fall to see if progress is possible on a broad deficit-reduction compromise of the type that has proved elusive in the current era of divided government.

Additionally, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is to be required to produce a report stating that her agency is capable of verifying the incomes of individuals who apply for federal subsidies under the health care law known as Obamacare.

Obama had insisted repeatedly he would not pay "ransom" by yielding to Republican demands for significant changes to the health care overhaul in exchange for funding the government and permitting Treasury the borrowing latitude to pay the nation's bills.