Congress votes to end shutdown, avoid US default

WASHINGTON (AP) — Up against a deadline,

Congress passed and sent a waiting President Barack Obama legislation

late Wednesday

night to avoid a threatened national default and end the 16-day

partial government shutdown, the culmination of an epic political

drama that placed the U.S. economy at risk.

The Senate voted first, a bipartisan 81-18

at midevening. That cleared the way for a final 285-144 vote in the

Republican-controlled

House about two hours later on the legislation, which hewed

strictly to the terms Obama laid down when the twin crises erupted

more than three weeks ago.

The legislation would permit the Treasury to

borrow normally through Feb. 7 or perhaps a month longer, and fund the

government

through Jan. 15. More than 2 million federal workers would be paid

— those who had remained on the job and those who had been

furloughed.

After the Senate approved the measure, Obama

hailed the vote and said he would sign it immediately after it reached

his desk.

"We'll begin reopening our government immediately and we can begin

to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and

the American people."

Later, in the House, Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said, "After two long weeks, it is time to end this 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 stock market surged higher at the prospect of an end to the crisis that also had threatened to shake confidence in the

U.S. economy overseas.

Republicans conceded defeat after a long

struggle. "We fought the good fight. We just didn't win," conceded House

Speaker

John Boehner as lawmakers lined up to vote on a bill that includes

nothing for GOP lawmakers who had demand to eradicate or

scale back Obama's signature health care overhaul.

"The compromise we reached will provide our economy with the stability it desperately needs," said Senate Majority Leader

Harry Reid, declaring that the nation "came to the brink of disaster" before sealing an agreement.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell,

who negotiated the deal with Reid, emphasized that it preserved a round

of spending

cuts negotiated two years ago with Obama and Democrats. As a

result, he said, "government spending has declined for two years

in a row" for the first time since the Korean War. "And we're not

going back on this agreement," he added.

Only a temporary truce, the measure set a time frame of early this winter for the next likely clash between Obama and the

Republicans over spending and borrowing.

But for now, government was lurching back to life. Within moments of the House's vote, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of

the Office of Management and Budget, issued a statement saying "employees should expect to return to work in the morning."

After weeks of gridlock, the measure had

support from the White House, most if not all Democrats in Congress and

many Republicans

fearful of the economic impact of a default.

Boehner and the rest of the top GOP leadership told their rank and file in advance they would vote for the measure. In the

end, Republicans split 144 against and 87 in favor. All 198 voting Democrats were supporters.

Final passage came in plenty of time to assure Obama's signature before the administration's 11:59 p.m. Thursday deadline.

That was when Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the government would reach the current $16.7 trillion debt limit and could

no longer borrow to meet its obligations.

Tea party-aligned lawmakers who triggered the shutdown that began on Oct. 1 said they would vote against the legislation.

Significantly, though, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and others agreed not to use the Senate's cumbersome 18th-century rules to slow

the bill's progress.

In remarks on the Senate floor, Cruz said the measure was "a terrible deal" and criticized fellow Republicans for lining up

behind it.

McConnell made no mention of the polls showing that the shutdown and flirtation with default have sent Republicans' public

approval plummeting and have left the party badly split nationally as well as in his home state of Kentucky. He received a

prompt reminder, though.

"When the stakes are highest Mitch McConnell can always be counted on to sell out conservatives," said Matt Bevin, who is

challenging the party leader from the right in a 2014 election primary.

More broadly, national tea party groups and

their allies underscored the internal divide. The Club for Growth urged

lawmakers

to vote against the congressional measure, and said it would

factor in the organization's decision when it decides which candidates

to support in midterm elections next year.

"There are no significant changes to

Obamacare, nothing on the other major entitlements that are racked with

trillions in

unfunded liabilities, and no meaningful spending cuts either. If

this bill passes, Congress will kick the can down the road,

yet again," the group said.

Even so, support for Boehner appeared solid

inside his fractious rank and file. "There are no plots, plans or

rumblings that

I know of. And I was part of one in January, so I'd probably be on

the whip list for that," said Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out in favor of the bill.

Simplicity at the end, there was next to nothing in the agreement beyond authorization for the Treasury to resume borrowing

and funding for the government to reopen.

House and Senate negotiators are to meet this fall to see if progress is possible on a broad deficit-reduction compromise

of the type that has proved elusive in the current era of divided government.

Additionally, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is to be required to produce a report stating that her

agency is capable of verifying the incomes of individuals who apply for federal subsidies under the health care law known

as Obamacare.

Obama had insisted repeatedly he would not

pay "ransom" by yielding to Republican demands for significant changes

to the health

care overhaul in exchange for funding the government and

permitting Treasury the borrowing latitude to pay the nation's bills.

Other issues fell by the wayside in a final

deal, including a Republican proposal for the suspension of a medical

device tax

in Obamacare and a Democratic call to delay a fee on companies for

everyone who receives health coverage under an employer-sponsored

plan.

The gradual withering of Republicans' Obamacare-related demands defined the arc of the struggle that has occupied virtually

all of Congress' time for the past three weeks.

The shutdown began on Oct. 1 after Cruz and his tea party allies in the House demanded the defunding of the health care law

as a trade for providing essential government funding.

Obama and Reid refused, then refused again and again as Boehner gradually scaled back Republican demands.

The shutdown initially idled about 800,000 workers, but that soon fell to about 350,000 after Congress agreed to let furloughed

Pentagon employees return to work. While there was widespread inconvenience, the mail was delivered, Medicare continued to

pay doctors who treated seniors and there was no interruption in Social Security benefits.

Still, national parks were closed to the detriment of tourists and local businesses, government research scientists were sent

home and Food and Drug Administration inspectors worked only sporadically.