WASHINGTON — Congress voted Wednesday to reopen the federal government and raise the nation's debt ceiling, ending a bruising partisan battle that drew public scorn and raised serious doubts about whether the divided government here can function.
The Senate voted 81 to 18 for the short-term deal, and the House approved it by a vote of 285 to 144. The approval came just hours before the U.S. Treasury Department was expected to fall short of funds to pay the nation's bills.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, opposed the bill; Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is recovering from heart surgery and missed the vote. In the House, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, voted for the bill; Reps. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City; Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa; Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne; and Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, opposed it.
At the White House, President Barack Obama said he would sign the bill immediately and “begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and the American people.”
Under the bipartisan agreement forged by Senate leaders, furloughed workers will be paid for the time missed during the 16-day partial shutdown; most are expected to return to their jobs in the next few days.
But the first government shutdown in the last 17 years may not be the last in the current fiscal year. The deal to reopen the government lasts only until Jan. 15. And the nation's borrowing authority will run out on Feb. 7.
In the next several weeks, lawmakers will be tasked with resolving highly charged budget issues: extracting savings from entitlement programs and dealing with the next round of programmed cuts that will fall hardest on the Defense Department.
Even as they agreed to a truce on Wednesday, both sides prepped for that battle. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, said it was critically important to preserve the cuts adopted during the 2011 debt ceiling crisis.
Democrats have been pushing to spend more than the 2011 law allows.
Obama said, “There's a lot of work ahead of us, including our need to earn back the trust of the American people that's been lost over the last few weeks.”
The president said he would make more remarks on Thursday.
The deal struck Wednesday to take Washington at least temporarily out of crisis mode was a clear win for President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats — at least on the health care law that was the source of the conflict.
House Republicans started out three weeks ago aiming to defund the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — but Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate wouldn't budge; House Republicans wound up Tuesday arguing among themselves about whether their final offer should be simply defunding their own staff members' subsidies for health insurance.
The deal approved Wednesday makes no major changes to Obamacare, and lawmakers from both parties said Wednesday that Congress had ended up at the same place it was before the shutdown began on Oct. 1.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement Wednesday, “The House has fought with everything it has to convince the president of the United States to engage in bipartisan negotiations aimed at addressing our country's debt and providing fairness for the American people under Obamacare.
“That fight will continue.”
Tea party plan
Boehner surprised many by adopting the tea party strategy last month of trying to defund the health care bill through a bill to keep the government running.
He held his fractious House majority together through most of the past three weeks, though that may be a tougher task in the future.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who helped launch the effort to defund Obamacare and staged a 21-hour speech about it on the Senate floor, was among the last to speak Wednesday night before the vote. The tea party hero praised House Republicans for fighting as long as they did, and he blamed Senate Republicans for not taking up the fight.
One of those Senate Republicans, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, of New Hampshire, said Wednesday that “shutting down the government was not a smart strategy ... and I hope we never do this again.”
Some Senate Democrats continued to bash House Republicans, even as the episode came to an end.
“At the end of the day, we never should have gone through what we went through,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.