Senate Strikes Deal to Reopen Government, Raise Debt Limit – House Agreement Hopeful

Senate Strikes Deal to Reopen Government, Raise Debt Limit – House Agreement Hopeful

On this 16th day of the partial government shutdown and one day before the Treasury hits the debt limit, Senate leaders reached agreement to resolve the stalemate.  The White House accepts it and there is optimism that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will bring it to the floor of the House for a vote even if a majority of Republicans do not support it.  If he does, the expectation is that it will pass with most Democratic and some Republican votes.

The deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is similar, but not identical, to the plan they agreed to on Monday and that many House Republican members opposed.   Today’s plan would:

  • fund the government through January 15 at current levels (January 15 is when the next phase of the sequester is supposed to kick in),
  • raise the debt limit until February 7,
  • establish a House-Senate conference committee to negotiate agreement on a longer term budget plan by December 13,
  • require income verification for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare),
  • pay furloughed federal workers retroactively, and
  • provide emergency funding for Colorado to recover from its recent historic flooding.

Other changes to Obamacare proposed in earlier House or Senate versions — such as defunding or delaying it,  repealing or delaying the medical device tax, or delaying a reinsurance tax — were dropped.

At the moment, the plan is for the Senate to vote on the proposal this afternoon.   Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), who are viewed as the originators of this budget and debt ceiling standoff with their goal to defund Obamacare, reportedly have indicated that they will not filibuster the measure, allowing it to come to a vote expeditiously.

There is broad optimism that it will pass the Senate and Boehner then will allow a vote in the House even if he does not have a majority of his Republicans on board.  Boehner released a statement this afternoon saying “The House has fought with everything it has to convince the President of the United States to engage in bipartisan negotiations… That fight will continue. But blocking the bipartisan agreement reached today by the members of the Senate will not be a tactic for us.”

Under an informal rule dubbed the Hastert Rule after former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the House Republican leadership is reluctant to bring a bill to the floor unless there is a “majority of the majority” in favor of it; that is, most of the members of the Republican caucus.   Boehner ignored that rule at the beginning of the year in order to win passage of legislation to avert the “fiscal cliff,” but it is risky politically and he has avoided it so far.  Boehner reiterated yesterday, however, that he strongly believes the government should not default on its debt and the debt limit will be reached tomorrow, adding urgency to resolving the stalemate. 


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