WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate leaders announced last-minute agreement Wednesday to avert a threatened Treasury default and reopen the government after a partial, 16-day shutdown. Congress raced to pass the measure by day's end.
The Dow Jones industrial average soared on the news that the threat of default was fading, flirting with a 200-point gain in morning trading.
“This is a time for reconciliation,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of the agreement he had forged with the GOP leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
McConnell said that with the agreement, Republicans had sealed a deal to have spending in one area of the budget decline for two years in a row, adding, “we're not going back.”
One prominent tea party lawmaker, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, said he would oppose the plan, but not seek to delay its passage.
That was a key concession that signaled a strong possibility that both houses could act by day's end. That, in turn, would allow President Barack Obama to sign the bill into law ahead of the Thursday deadline that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew had set for action to raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit.
Officials said the proposal called for the Treasury to have authority to continue borrowing through Feb. 7, and the government would reopen through Jan. 15.
There was no official comment from the White House, although congressional officials said administration aides had been kept fully informed of the negotiations.
While the emerging deal could well meet resistance from conservatives in the Republican-controlled House, the Democratic Leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, has signaled she will support the plan and her rank and file is expected to vote for it in overwhelming numbers.
That raised the possibility that more Democrats than Republicans would back it, potentially causing additional problems for House Speaker John Boehner as he struggles to manage his tea party-heavy majority.
Boehner and the House Republican leadership met in a different part of the Capitol to plan their next move. A spokesman, Michael Steel, said afterward that no decision had been made “about how or when a potential Senate agreement could be voted on in the House.”
The developments came one day before the deadline Lew had set for Congress to raise the current $16.7 trillion debt limit. Without action by lawmakers, he said, Treasury could not be certain it had the ability to pay bills as they come due.
In addition to raising the debt limit, the proposal would give lawmakers a vote to disapprove the increase. Obama would have the right to veto their opposition, ensuring he would prevail.
House and Senate negotiators would be appointed to seek a deficit-reduction deal. At the last minute, Reid and McConnell jettisoned a plan to give federal agencies increased flexibility in coping with the effects of across-the-board cuts. Officials said that would be a topic for the negotiations expected to begin shortly.
Despite initial Republican demands for the defunding of the health care law known as Obamacare, the pending agreement makes only one modest change in the program. It requires individuals and families seeking subsidies to purchase coverage to verify their incomes before qualifying.
There were some dire warnings from the financial world a day after the Fitch credit rating agency said it was reviewing its AAA rating on U.S. government debt for possible downgrade.
John Chambers, chairman of Standard & Poor's Sovereign Debt Committee, told “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday that a U.S. government default on its debts would be “much worse than Lehman Brothers,” the investment firm whose 2008 collapse led to the global financial crisis.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett told CNBC he doesn't think the federal government will fail to pay its bills, but “if it does happen, it's a pure act of idiocy.”