Congress votes to end US government shutdown
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The US Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted in favour of a bipartisan deal Wednesday night to end the government shutdown and extend the debt ceiling until February 7.
US Congress passed an 11th-hour deal Wednesday night to bring an end to a two-week government shutdown and avert a debt default in a bipartisan deal that left Republicans little to show for the epic political drama that threatened to rattle the world economy.
The Senate voted 81-18 to send the bill to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which passed it late Wednesday night 285-144. President Barack Obama signed the legislation shortly after midnight Thursday.
Congress had faced a deadline of 11:59 p.m. on Thursday to raise the government’s borrowing authority or risk a default on its obligations.
The bill reopens the government until January 15 and permits the Treasury to borrow normally up to February 7. It includes nothing for Republicans demanding to eradicate or scale back Obama’s signature health care overhaul.
“We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,” conceded House Speaker John Boehner as lawmakers lined up to vote on the bill.
Taking the podium in the White House briefing room after the Senate vote and just before the House took up the measure, Obama said that with final congressional passage, “We can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease from our businesses and from the American people”.
“Hopefully next time it won’t be in the 11th hour,” Obama said. “We’ve got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis.”
Less than an hour later, as debate began in the House, Republican Rep. Harold Rogers 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.”
The stock market surged earlier Wednesday at the prospect of an end to the crisis that had threatened to shake confidence in the US economy overseas.
Victory for Obama, defeat for Republicans
The crisis began on October 1 with a partial shutdown of the federal government after House Republicans refused to accept a temporary funding measure unless Obama agreed to defund or delay his health care law, known as ‘Obamacare’.
It escalated when House Republicans also refused to move on needed approval for raising the amount of money the Treasury can borrow to pay US bills, raising the spectre of a catastrophic default.
Obama vowed repeatedly not to pay a “ransom” in order to get Congress to pass normally routine legislation and refused to negotiate on changes to the healthcare law.
“The President got absolutely everything that he wanted - the government opens up in just a few hours time … and the debt ceiling has been raised.” said FRANCE 24’s Washington correspondent Philip Crowther.
In contrast, the deal the Republicans have come out of the deal looking “very weak indeed”, he said.
“There is no mention of Obamacare in the end [in the legislation]. It’s awful news for Republicans and they will think twice about going up against something that is law already and going for a showdown with the president and democrat.”
However, House Speaker Boehner vowed Republicans were not giving up on the fight to bring down US debt and cripple Obamacare.
“Our drive to stop the train wreck that is the president’s health care law will continue,” Boehner said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the legislation will come as a relief to the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who were furloughed, or sent home without pay, as part of the shutdown.
Within moments of the House’s vote, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, issued a statement saying “employees should expect to return to work in the morning”.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)