October 18, 2013

Congress avoids default, ends shutdown

The deal prevents global economic damage, allows full federal operations to resume, reopens Acadia and averts furloughs for 2,700 state workers.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — With less than two hours to spare, Congress voted late Wednesday night to end the 16-day government shutdown and avoid a federal default that experts warned could push the U.S. back into recession.

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Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday that “we fought the good fight. We just didn’t win.”

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

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The Senate voted 81-18 on a bill brokered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to allow additional borrowing through Feb. 7 and provide funding for government agencies through Jan. 15. The House followed suit, 285-144.

In a major defeat for Republicans, President Obama’s landmark health care law, the Affordable Care Act, escaped the bitter political process virtually unscathed.

But the deal leaves, at least temporarily, the “sequestration” budget cuts that took effect in March, and orders the starkly divided House and Senate to negotiate a budget agreement by mid-December. It also offers back pay for all federal employees who were furloughed because of the shutdown that started Oct. 1.

In Maine, the deal means Acadia National Park will reopen and give Bar Harbor-area businesses a chance to reduce some of the losses that the shutdown caused at the tail end of the 2013 tourist season. And more than 2,700 state employees who faced furloughs beginning Thursday will stay on the job.

Thousands of federal workers in the state had been furloughed, although many defense and shipyard workers were subsequently called back to work.

A default might have delayed Social Security and veterans’ pension payments to hundreds of thousands of Mainers or affected Medicaid and Medicare. Maine has one of the nation’s highest proportions of residents who rely on those programs.

Obama vowed to sign the bill into law quickly, just hours before the deadline when Treasury officials warned the country would bump up against its borrowing limit, known as the debt ceiling.

“Once this agreement arrives on my desk, I will sign it immediately,” Obama said after the Senate vote. “We’ll begin reopening our government immediately, and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease from our businesses and from the American people.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said earlier Wednesday that his caucus would not further delay the bill, after weeks of unsuccessful attempts to use the budget negotiations to defund or gut the Affordable Care Act.

“We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,” Boehner said, according to The Associated Press.

The agreement passed with support from all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation: Republican Sen. Susan Collins, independent Sen. Angus King and Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud.

PLEASED, BUT REPRIEVE TEMPORARY

Collins played a key role in jump-starting negotiations by offering one of the first comprehensive proposals, then leading a bipartisan group whose recommendations helped frame the leadership’s negotiations.

“I continue to believe that our plan was a great path forward but I am pleased that it paved the way to what I hope will be a solution to the impasse that we are facing,” Collins said in a floor speech.

King, who was a member of the Collins-led group, described the deal as “an agreement that is not going to be acceptable or exciting to anyone” but one that addresses the immediate crises and allows Congress “to move forward on the nation’s problems.”

“Everybody is feeling positive about where we are, but I think everybody also realizes that this is a temporary reprieve,” King said, alluding to the fact that Congress will have to address the same issues early next year.

King, who is a member of the Senate Budget Committee, was named as one of the senators on the budget negotiation team.

The congressional action means that two million federal employees who have been working without pay or at home on furlough will be paid, ending 2½ weeks of frustrating uncertainty.

(Continued on page 2)

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