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Default Averted; House Votes to Reopen Government

Updated 10:13 a.m., Oct. 17 — After a bitter 16-day government shutdown and just hours before the Treasury Department’s debt ceiling deadline, the House passed the Senate’s bipartisan deal to reopen the government and extend the nation’s borrowing limit, sending the measure to the president.

The chamber voted 285-144 late Wednesday night on the Senate-negotiated fiscal package, with 198 Democrats voting “yes” and 144 Republicans voting “no.” Democratic votes carried the package to passage, considering only 87 of 232 GOP lawmakers voted to extend both government funding and the debt ceiling. All Democrats who were present voted for the deal.

Earlier in the evening, the Senate voted 81-18 to pass the bill, and President Barack Obama made a statement shortly after the Senate vote to say he would immediately sign the bill.

“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,” Obama said. Obama later signed the bill, and the government reopened Thursday morning.

The law funds the government through Jan. 15, 2014, and puts off the debt ceiling until Feb. 7, 2014, with the Treasury Department maintaining its ability to use “extraordinary measures” to extend the deadline.

The deal, which was brokered in the Senate after the House was unable to find enough votes for its own plan, would provide back pay for federal workers, including pay for about 800,000 workers who were deemed nonessential and furloughed during the shutdown. States that used their own funds to carry on government operations would also be paid back by the federal government.

Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., called the bill “the product of a final agreement between Republicans and Democrats to help put us back on stable ground with an open government and without the threat of default, as we look to find a long-term comprehensive solution to our multitude of fiscal problems.”

Rogers, who has seemed frustrated during much of the shutdown debate, said, “After two long weeks, it’s time to end the 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 vote bookends a bitter partisan battle over Obamacare. It doesn’t, however, heal the wounds from the past three weeks.

And while one obstacle might be over, others lie ahead. Lawmakers met Thursday morning to begin budget talks, which are now expected to be wrapped up by mid-December, but with no real prospects for a breakthrough given that both sides still seem dug in on the question of taxes.

Some House GOP moderates, such as Peter T. King of New York and Charles Dent of Pennsylvania, predicted from the beginning of the shutdown that it was only a matter of time before House Republican leaders would bring a “clean” continuing resolution to the floor — and eventually, a clean debt limit hike, too.

The lead-up to the vote, on legislation that squeezes the tiniest of concessions out of Democrats and the White House related to the 2010 health care law, was one of many twists and turns.

In late September, House Republican leaders were prepared to move on a CR that would force the Senate to take an up-or-down vote to defund Obamacare before it could vote on the spending bill itself. Rank-and-file Republicans, fresh from the August recess town hall circuit, called that plan a gimmick.

So to appease the Republican rank and file, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, bowed to his conference; he gave them the defund-Obamacare-through-the-CR battle they and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, demanded.

But when it became clear — many say it was always clear — that Republicans would not be able to achieve a full defund, Boehner tried a series of other maneuvers aimed at providing Republicans cover and moving Democrats off the position that they would not negotiate: first a one-year delay to Obamacare’s individual mandate and the elimination of health care subsidies for Capitol Hill and executive branch staff; then an offer to go to conference as the shutdown began; then a host of mini continuing resolutions that would fund popular parts of the government.

The Senate and the White House weren’t having any of it.

By Wednesday afternoon, after Boehner and other members of GOP leadership told members they would vote Wednesday night on the Senate package following passage in that chamber, lawmakers emerged from the closed-door meeting with somber resignation of the facts at hand.

“It’s better to win than it is to lose,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich. “We lost.”

But Republicans did get their sequester funding levels, which Democrats and Republicans have long said was a win for the GOP. And Boehner walks away from his conference seemingly stronger for having given his conference the fight it wanted on Obamacare.

As Boehner often says to his conference: Republicans live to fight another day. And with the CR expiring in three months and the debt limit pushed just off the horizon, those fights will come soon enough.

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