Washington Digest - Congress ends shutdown, averts debt crisis


WASHINGTON — Ending the latest crisis on Capitol Hill, Congress passed a bill last week allowing the government to reopen after a 16-day shutdown and continue borrowing money to pay its bills.

Votes in the House and Senate came the night before the Treasury Department had said it would have exhausted remedies to avert a U.S. default.

Passage of a temporary appropriations bill reopened national parks and allowed the resumption of many government services. It called 800,000 furloughed federal workers back to their jobs, along with back pay for time they were not working.

The final compromise negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell of Kentucky funds the government until January 15, and extends its borrowing authority until February 7.

In the meantime, it created a House-Senate conference committee to negotiate fiscal issues including spending, the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester, taxes and changes to entitlement programs like Social Security.

The government shutdown was triggered by Republican demands that the Affordable Care Act be defunded or delayed, a cry that was rejected by President Barack Obama and Democrats. The final bill contained only an anti-fraud measure that would seek to confirm income levels for people applying for subsidies to buy health insurance under the law.

Supporters of the bill expressed relief that default had been averted and that the government could resume working. They said they hoped the newly formed conference committee could reach agreement on longer-term solutions that would avoid a crisis replay when the new deadlines expire early in the new year.

Opponents said the agreement merely kicked the can down road without solving debt and spending problems, and by not addressing what they consider to be the flawed Obamacare law.

The Senate passed the bill, 81-18. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., voted for it.

The House added its approval, 285-144. Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, voted for it.