By George E. Curry
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite their well-known animus for each other, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reached a last-minute deal Wednesday that will end the federal government shutdown and raise the debt limit through Feb. 7.
The House and Senate are expected to vote on the compromise measure late Wednesday, just hours before the U.S. Treasury Department was scheduled to run out of borrowing power.
“There are no winners here,” White House 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 numerous meetings at the White House and repeated efforts by House Republicans to use the threat of a government shutdown to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health legislation that is loosely referred to as Obamacare, Reid and McConnell announced their agreement on the Senate floor.
“After weeks spent facing off across a partisan divide that often seemed too wide to cross, our country came to the brink of disaster,” Reid said. “What we’ve done is send a message to Americans…and in addition to that, to the citizens of every country in the world, that the United States lives up to its obligations.”
Standing next to Reid in the Senate, McConnell indicated that the nation hasn’t seen the last of GOP efforts to eliminate the Affordable Care Act.
“Republicans remain determined to repeal this terrible law,” he said. “But for today – for today –the relief we hope is to reopen the government, avoid default and protect the historic cuts we have achieved under the Budget Control Act.”
Although the Affordable Care Act was passed by the House and Senate, signed into law by President Obama, and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, House Republicans have made more than 40 attempts to repeal the landmark legislation – all without success.
Political observers said that because Obama has often caved in to Republicans demands in the past, they thought the threat of a government shutdown would cause him to yield to their demand that law be repealed. However, that threat backfired when Obama stood firm, refusing to give in to what he and his aides called ransom demands to extremist Tea Party wing of the GOP.
In one statement, White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said, “The president has said repeatedly that members of Congress don’t get to demand ransom for fulfilling their basic responsibilities to pass a budget and pay the nation’s bills.”
In the end, even Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who staged a 21-hour Senate filibuster against the law, said he would not filibuster the deal reached Wednesday between the two Senate leaders. He told reporters after the deal was announced, “Delaying this vote would not accomplish anything.”
The agreement lifts the $16.7 trillion debt limit, allowing the U.S. to pay bills its bills. Standard & Poor’s dropped the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+ after the 2011 debt ceiling crisis. Another credit rating agency, Fitch, said earlier this week that it might follow suit if the U.S. defaulted on its obligations. A third credit rating agency, Moody’s, still has the U.S. rated AAA.
The White House made a minor concession by agreeing to require verification of the income of those qualifying for health insurance subsidies.
After Republicans lost their bid to repeal national health legislation, they suffered a series of other setbacks, including a last-ditch proposal that would have eliminated employer contributions for lawmakers and forced the president, vice president and political appointees to participate in health care exchanges administered by states without a tax subsidy.
“We took some bread crumbs and left an entire meal on the table,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C. said after the deal was announced. “This has been a really bad two weeks for the Republican Party.”
Indeed, at least one national poll that more than two-thirds of Americans mostly blamed Republicans for the government shutdown, which began Oct. 1.
Senators Reid and McConnell agreed as part of their deal to set up a budget conference committee assigned to put the country on a long-term path to fiscal stability. The panel, to be chaired by Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee. But there were no immediate indications if this committee will be any more successful than past committees assigned to streamline federal spending.
Many Republicans are surveying the damage the shutdown has had on their party.
Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said, “If we learn nothing else, I hope we learn we shouldn’t get behind a strategy that has no endgame.”
Reid, speaking for Democrats, said: “This is not a time for pointing fingers and blame. This is a time of reconciliation. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of this great Capitol to pass this remarkable agreement that will protect the long term health of our economy and avert a default on our nation’s debt, and allow us to set a foundation for economic expansion.”