After two weeks of false starts and Republican infighting, Congress finally voted late Wednesday night to end the first government shutdown in 17 years and to avert a default on U.S. debt. But the deal brokered at the last minute between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell does little besides setting up more budgetary battles: government funding runs dry, once again, in January, and the borrowing limit must be lifted in February. For now, though, the crisis that has gripped Washington is lifting. President Barack Obama signed the bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling early Thursday morning, the White House said in a statement, as the Office of Management and Budget alerted government workers to get ready to return to work on Thursday.
Congress moved Wednesday to end the government shutdown and prevent a possible default as the Senate in a bipartisan vote approved a deal worked out by the chamber’s leaders.
The Senate voted 81-18 to send the measure to the House, which is expected to approve it later tonight. President Obama has said he will sign the bill, which would fund the government until Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. All 18 no votes came from Republicans, at it included a trio of senators seen as possible 2016 presidential candidates: Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.). Nervous markets rallied during the day on the news of the deal, which came a day after Fitch threatened to downgrade the U.S. and after House Republican efforts to draft a rival plan collapsed Tuesday evening. The government is expected to re-open on Thursday, 17 days after the shutdown began and the day set by the Treasury Department as the deadline for raising the debt ceiling.
Congressional Republicans conceded defeat on Wednesday in their bitter budget fight with President Obama over the new health care law as the House and Senate approved last-minute legislation ending a disruptive 16-day government shutdown and extending federal borrowing power to avert a financial default with potentially worldwide economic repercussions. With the Treasury Department warning that it could run out of money to pay national obligations within a day, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday evening, 81 to 18, to approve a proposal hammered out by the chamber’s Republican and Democratic leaders after the House on Tuesday was unable to move forward with any resolution. The House followed suit a few hours later, voting 285 to 144 to approve the Senate plan, which would fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit through Feb. 7. Mr. Obama signed the bill about 12:30 a.m. Thursday. Most House Republicans opposed the bill, but 87 voted to support it. The breakdown showed that Republican leaders were willing to violate their informal rule against advancing bills that do not have majority Republican support in order to end the shutdown. All 198 Democrats voting supported the measure.
God bless Mitch McConnell. The Senate Republican leader isn’t an especially lovable figure. Even many of his fellow conservatives are lukewarm about him. He’s colorless and charisma-free. He’s a thoroughgoing partisan who has launched more filibusters than any Senate leader in history. He’s a relentless fan of unlimited campaign spending and a bitter opponent not just of Obamacare but of all things Obama. Asked in 2010 to describe his highest legislative goal, he said it was to make sure Barack Obama was a one-term president. But the wily Kentuckian is also an old-fashioned legislative strategist who can count votes, discern when his party is holding a losing hand and make the decision to cut a deal. That’s what McConnell did this week when he sat down with his Democratic counterpart, the equally unlovable Harry Reid of Nevada, and struck a bargain to reopen the federal government and avert the danger of a default on the national debt. "No one wants a default," McConnell said. "So let’s put this hysterical talk of default behind us and instead start talking about finding solutions."
REP. NANCY PELOSI: It’s going to pass in the Senate. We’re going to pass it in the House. I can’t believe that many Republicans will vote against opening government and lifting the debt ceiling, but we’ll see. We’ll see in a few hours or maybe tomorrow morning. But whatever it is, we have to use it as a template on how we go forward, recognizing that this was an opportunity cost of time. We could have been talking about jobs, farm bill, immigration, any number of issues that need to be addressed. And I commend the speaker for coming around to bringing it to the floor. I salute — I never saw anything like what Harry Reid did. To watch him was to watch a master at work. He was superb, intellectually, politically astute. Just the sheer stamina of it all. It’s a sign of the respect that his members have for him.
If you’re reading the newspapers just now to get caught up on the debt-ceiling crisis, you may have the impression that events are now spinning utterly out of control. “A day that was supposed to bring Washington to the edge of resolving the fiscal showdown instead seemed to bring chaos and retrenching,” reports the New York Times. “A campaign to persuade House Republicans to lift the federal debt limit collapsed in humiliating failure Tuesday, leaving Washington careering toward a critical deadline just two days away, with no clear plan for avoiding a government default,” warns the Washington Post. This is the opposite of what is going on. In fact, the events of yesterday amounted to utter success. The debt ceiling will be lifted, the crisis is over, and so, too, may be the larger Constitutional struggle it unleashed. The mistaken impression of chaos and collapse was left by the collapse of the House Republican plan. But the House Republicans are the hostage-takers. It’sgood that their plan collapsed. Their plan was to insist on winning at least some concession from President Obama, testing his resolve not to be extorted, and, at least, pushing the crisis until the last moment.
It has been called the shutdown about nothing. In bringing it to an end, lawmakers managed to accomplish even less than that. There’s a temptation, after Washington moves away from the latest in its seemingly endless lines of confrontations, to celebrate the moment. Words like “bipartisan” and “compromise” are bandied about. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quickly labeled the agreement “historic.” There’s a reflexive desire to declare that, for all the sausage-making, the system worked. Except that it didn’t, not even a little bit. This was a moment when Washington simply broke, or, at the very least, showed the world how hopelessly and totally broken it has become. As a result of the agreement reached Wednesday, three weeks of sheer madness have come to an end. That’s about it.A government that nobody wanted to shut down is poised to reopen after 16 days of personal hardship, disappointed tourists and vast amounts of wasted productivity. The United States was on the brink of defaulting on its debts because of simple legislative paralysis; the best that can be said of a higher debt limit is that this won’t happen, at least for now.
Republican 2nd District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers Wednesday night delivered on her promise to vote against a deal brokered in the Senate to reopen federal government and raise the nation’s debt limit to avoid a default. The Senate voted 81 to 18 Wednesday night on the legislation, which permits the U.S. 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 – those who had remained on the job and those who had been furloughed – will also be paid under the agreement. "It just doesn’t have enough in it for me to vote for it, to warrant raising the debt ceiling (and) adding to our nation’s problems with spending," Ellmers said Wednesday afternoon, several hours before the House’s passage by a 285-144 vote. "The issue here is that we’ve got to be fiscally responsible."
North Carolina has become the first state to cut off welfare benefits to poor residents in the wake of the partial federal government shutdown, ordering a halt to processing November applications until a deal is reached to end the federal standstill. More than 20,000 people – most of them children – receive monthly benefits aimed at helping them buy food and other basic supplies through North Carolina’s welfare program, called Work First, which is fully funded by the federal government. Recipients must reapply each month. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services told its local offices in a letter dated Oct. 10 not to process applications for November benefits until the federal government reaches a deal to restore normal operations. "We are heavily dependent on federal dollars," said Julie Henry, spokeswoman for the state HHS department. "When these kinds of things happen at the federal level, it has an immediate impact."
After two weeks of closed government and a debt-limit freakout, a deal is on the horizon—and the GOP has little to show for the crisis caused by its demands. With a deal to reopen the government apparently imminent Wednesday, it’s worth taking stock of what it was all for—the two and a half weeks without a fully functioning federal government, the nonstop chaos on Capitol Hill, the tiptoeing to the brink of default. For Republicans, it was basically for nothing. The GOP will actually get less out of the final deal being brokered than the party would have gotten had House conservatives never staged their revolt on Obamacare. In fact, the drama is likely to end with Republicans ceding policy concessions to Democrats.
Today I heard an update on the radio from the fiscal crisis in Washington, and thought, “The Republicans really are going to push us over the edge.” I hope I’m wrong, of course, but it becomes more thinkable with each passing hour. I thought next about how hard we’ve worked to invest wisely, and to sock money away for retirement. If the world wakes up Thursday morning plunging into a 2008-style economic collapse, we could find our investments massively damaged. Some people we know have only now built their nest eggs back up after the 2008 disaster. We could be looking at that. Or worse. At least my family doesn’t have to worry about feeding itself. Food stamps in some states are about to be cut off, it appears, absent reopening the government at once. I slammed the Wal-mart food rioters for greed, because that’s exactly what it was. They were no Jean Valjeans. But the government being unable to provide food benefits to poor people because the Republicans will not authorize the money to pay the debts that Congress already incurred? That’s a different story.
Brad Plumer highlights this chart from a new report by Macroeconomic Advisers finding that ”Congress’s budget fights, debt-ceiling stand-offs, and spending cuts have cost the U.S. economy nearly 3 percent of GDP since 2010. That’s roughly $700 billion in lost economic activity — all thanks to Congress.”
Louise Slaughter (D-NY) questions Pete Sessions (R-TX) about why a small group of Republicans have taken away the right of any member of Congress to call a vote–which are normal rules of the House. Under regular order ANY member can call for a vote on a Senate proposal but you have changed that regular order under this resolution so that only the majority leader can do it. Can you tell us why you did that? He squirms and tries to avoid her very pointed and direct questions. Once he does answer, she says with disgust: Despite the fact that everyone of you said over and over, ad nauseum, that you didn’t want to shut the government down? We spent some time downstairs in my office watching this tape of so many of your members, it was right after they were elected in 2010 saying how much they would like to shut down the House–to great applause. The fact that at any time you could have stopped it and we could have gotten it over with and would not have cause this awful disruption that we’re going to see and for the people that haven’t see this before, wait until the phone calls come into your office. I think it’s short-sighted, I think it’s an atrocity to the rules of the house, and I think that you’re putting the whole country through this angst and this aggravation that we did not need to go. This one, we could have done without, and I must tell you that I’m more and more angry now that I understand what you have done is take away our ability to really make a motion for that Senate vote.
Politico: 18 GOP senators vote against budget deal
When it came time to vote on a bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, the top two Senate Republicans just couldn’t agree. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) opposed the deal brokered by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) , who negotiated the pact with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Both Cornyn and McConnell are up for reelection in 2014 and McConnell has already drawn serious challengers from both the Democratic and Republican parties. Overall, 18 Republican senators opposed the final vote on approving the deal to end the crisis. All members of the Democratic caucus supported it. The other members of the GOP leadership team — Sens. John Thune of South Dakota, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Roy Blunt of Missouri — all approved the deal hashed out by the Republican leader. Besides Cornyn, the deal was opposed by several other GOP senators who are watching their right flanks ahead of 2014 reelection bids: Sens. Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Pat Roberts of Kansas. But overall McConnell was able to hold together the majority of his 46-member caucus to support his deal, though senators said he did not twist arms in party meetings ahead of the vote.
Conservative groups ripped into Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, accusing him of earmarking $2 billion for a famously troubled lock-and-dam project that would benefit his home state as part of the bill to reopen the government and avert a debt default. “It’s the Kentucky Kickback,” the Senate Conservatives Fund, which is considering backing McConnell’s primary opponent, wrote in a blog post. “In exchange for funding Obamacare and raising the debt limit, Mitch McConnell has secured a $2 billion earmark. This is an insult to all the Kentucky families who don’t want to pay for Obamacare and don’t want to shoulder any more debt.” McConnell’s office said he had no role in securing the language, which was authored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). Versions of the water project measure passed both the House and Senate earlier this year. “The provision was requested by the (Energy and Water Appropriations) subcommittee—as they have made clear,” a spokesman for McConnell said.
There’s a scene in The Dark Knight Rises—the final film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy—in which the villain, Bane, taunts the Caped Crusader before crippling him. “I was wondering what would break first,” he says, “your spirit, or your body!” If you replaced “body” with “caucus,” you could ask the same question of House Speaker John Boehner. It was clear, from the start, that Boehner’s heart wasn’t in the shutdown or the fight to defund the Affordable Care Act. But now his caucus has lost its desire to fight as well. As reported by several outlets, Republicans have agreed to a “deal” that reopens the government through January 15, raises the debt ceiling through early February, allows the Treasury to resume “extraordinary measures” to delay hitting the debt limit, requires both chambers to reach a budget deal by December, provides back pay for federal workers, and requires enhanced income verification for Obamacare beneficiaries.
A new Pew Research survey finds the Tea Party "is less popular than ever, with even many Republicans now viewing the movement negatively. Overall, 49% of the public has an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party, while 30% have a favorable opinion." "The Tea Party’s favorability rating has fallen across most groups since June, but the decline has been particularly dramatic among moderate and liberal Republicans. In the current survey, just 27% of moderate and liberal Republicans have a favorable impression of the Tea Party, down from 46% in June."
CNN Politics: Bipartisan group of senators helped pave the way for a Senate deal
Congressional approval ratings hovered at historic lows. Republican and Democrats hurled insults at each other and among themselves. The political circus in Washington even made its way to "Saturday Night Live: — in a sketch featuring Miley Cyrus, at that. It seemed that nothing would break through the partisan stronghold that left Capitol Hill at a standstill in the weeks leading up to and during the partial government shutdown. But at the same time some lawmakers were loudly pledging to dig in and hold their ground, a bipartisan group of 14 senators was working behind the scenes, churning out a plan to get the country back on track and avoid a possible default. Seven Republicans, six Democrats and one independent came together after Sen. Susan Collins of Maine stormed to the Senate floor on October 5 — a Saturday — and urged the chamber to actually work together, to "stop fighting and start legislating." The three-term senator, who’s up for re-election next year, got a call from two other Republicans that same day, Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. From there, they got to work. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia became the first Democrat to sign up.
Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) told the New York Times he was opposed to the deal to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling. He also suggest he’s ready for another showdown. Said Fleming: "I’ll vote against it. But that will get us into Round 2. See, we’re going to start this all over again."
Before the ink was even dry on the plan to end the government shutdown and avoid busting the nation’s debt limit, there were growing doubts that Congress could avoid another fiscal showdown in only 90 days. The package to reopen the government runs only through mid-January, and lawmakers have pinned hopes to avert a repeat performance on a new bipartisan, bicameral conference committee. The last similar panel, the so-called super committee of 2011, deadlocked and adjourned in disagreement. The new panel, to be led by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., will begin its talks amid a poisonous and partisan atmosphere after the first government shutdown in 17 years. If the policy gulf between the two parties was not challenging enough, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are questioning whether anyone—even Ryan, the most respected voice on fiscal matters among House Republicans—can truly represent a fractious conference that pushed a government shutdown against its leadership’s wishes and then rejected its own speaker’s proposal to reopen the government.
Speaker John A. Boehner strolled into a late-afternoon meeting with House Republicans and gave them one key directive: go home after it was all over on Wednesday night and get some sleep. Their fight was done. After their actions shuttered the American government for 16 days and threatened the nation’s credit rating and they fumed against the White House, Republicans ended their noisy revolt on Wednesday in a state of near somnolence. Senate Republicans tried to shake it all off like a bad dream, but their House counterparts, defeated but unbowed, agreed to table their fight until the next time. “I’m not prepared to suggest that this has been a complete loss,” said Representative Cynthia M. Lummis of Wyoming.
North Carolina taxpayers spent about $19,000 to remodel a restroom in Gov. Pat McCrory’s office at the State Capitol last summer following complaints about a bad smell. The Republican canceled plans last week to spend $230,000 in state funds to remodel six bathrooms in the historic Executive Mansion in Raleigh following public outcry. The Associated Press reported the work was to include more than $100,000 in new fixtures, marble and tile for McCrory’s master bathroom. Spokeswoman Kim Genardo says the old Capitol restroom required work because a "pungent odor" made it embarrassing to host dignitaries. She says the facilities needed new flooring, tiles and plumbing because of poor maintenance under prior administrations.
Mecklenburg County commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday urging state lawmakers to reconsider turning down billions in federal money that would expand Medicaid coverage to 500,000 uninsured North Carolinians.The resolution, approved 6-3 along party lines, urges Gov. Pat McCrory to call the General Assembly into a special session to reverse its previous decision and expand the state’s Medicaid coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Holding is in his first term, but having worked for the late Sen. Jesse Helms, he’s no stranger to Washington’s power dining spots, and at least three show up on his list: the Capitol Hill Club, a social club of sorts for Republicans; the 116 Club, a small spot known for its crab cakes; and the University Club. That latter dates to 1904 and boasts that its first president was then-Secretary of War William Howard Taft. It’s not clear whether Holding prefers the John J. Pershing Grille or the William Howard Taft Dining Room.
Democrat Cory Booker defeated Republican Steve Lonegan in the special U.S. Senate election in New Jersey on Wednesday. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the charismatic mayor of Newark led his GOP opponent by more than 10 points, 54.6 percent to 44.3 percent. Booker will succeed interim Republican Sen. Jeff Chiesa in filling out the remainder of former Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s term. The special election was set in motion in June after Lautenberg died in office at age 90. Booker becomes the first popularly elected African-American U.S. senator since Barack Obama was elected in Illinois in 2004. His imminent arrival in Washington will increase the Democratic caucus’ majority in the Senate from 54-46 to 55-45. In his victory speech, Booker promised not to engage in the "shallow politics that’s used to attack and divide" but said he would offer "the kind of hard, humble service that reaches out to others."
A new Public Policy Polling survey in South Dakota finds that the U.S. Senate race has tightened since the summer, with Mike Rounds (R) now winning by only 6 points over Rick Weiland (D), 40% to 34%, with Libertarian Kurt Evans at 11%.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., offered an endorsement on Wednesday to a tea party activist running for the GOP Senate nomination in North Carolina — a top pickup opportunity for Republicans. Physician Greg Brannon, one of several Republicans vying to take on Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, touted the endorsement from the conservative senator and potential presidential contender as a momentum boost for the campaign. The campaign’s announcement referred to Brannon as “an anti-establishment candidate … who will oppose the Big Government, big spending status quo in both parties.” In a statement, Paul called Brannon “a true constitutional conservative who will join me in fighting against business as usual in Washington.” “I urge conservatives in the state of North Carolina and across the nation to rally around Greg Brannon by contributing generously to his campaign and joining the grassroots volunteer effort to ensure that there is a strong Constitutional conservative Senator from North Carolina,” Paul said. According to Brannon campaign manager Reilly O’Neal, Brannon raised about $155,000 over the last three months and ended the quarter with $105,000 in cash on hand. Those numbers could receive a boost with Paul’s backing.
With the news breaking that John Boehner will allow a House vote on a Senate deal to end the crisis, meaning Republicans surrendered with nothing to show for weeks of crisis brinkmanship, how does that impact GOP fortunes heading into 2014? Though the shutdown mess has given Dems a sizable lead in the generic House ballot matchup, that will almost certainly fade. But it could have a lasting impact if it enables Dems to recruit good candidates right now, which could matter to the outcome. In an interview, DCCC chair Steve Israel told me a number of new recruits would be announced in coming days, thanks to GOP damage sustained in the crisis. “Conservatively, you will see another three — it could be as many as five,” Israel told me. “In a number of districts we had top-tier, all-star potential candidates who several months ago didn’t see a path to victory. They reopened the doors. These are competitive districts. They tend to be moderate and have large concentrations of independent voters. Those voters are now seeing the Tea Party implement their agenda.” Three to five new top recruits would not be insignificant, since Dems need to flip 17 seats to take back the House, but Dave Wasserman, who tracks House races for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, estimates that Dems are well short of the number of recruits they need. He says that given how few seats are truly competitive, Dems need between 35 and 40 high-quality recruits to have any shot at putting the House in play, and estimates that they only have two dozen serious recruits at present. Israel says Dems will meet that goal. “I think we’ll get it into the range of 40,” he said. “I don’t accept that we’re at 20-25 top recruits. I would put it right now in the mid-30s.” The widening ballot matchup in some polls (NBC/WSJ puts it at eight; Pew at six) has led to some talk of a “wave” developing. Stuart Rothenberg suggests it is now a possibility, and says if today’s conditions were present in the fall of 2014, a wave leading to a Dem takeover would be likely, though he also cautions conditions will likely shift again.
NEW AMERICAN CENTER
An exclusive Esquire-NBC News survey shows us that everything we are told about politics in America today—that there is no middle ground between left and right, blue and red, us and them—is wrong. The data, compiled by the Benenson Strategy Group (pollster for Obama for America ’08 and ’12) and Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies (lead pollster for Romney for President), show us there is a large group of American voters—even a majority—who make up a New American Center that is passionate, persuadable, and very real. They are merely waiting for Washington to find them.
Ninotchka, you may recall, was the eponymous Soviet commissar played by Greta Garbo in Ernst Lubitsch’s 1939 MGM comedy, released one year after Stalin’s show trials resulted in the execution of all of the tyrant’s more moderate predecessors in the Soviet leadership. “The last mass trials were a great success,” Ninotchka notes. “There are going to be fewer but better Russians.” Like the Stalinists and the Jacobins, today’s tea party zealots have purified their movement — not by executing but by driving away those Republicans who don’t share their enthusiasm for wrecking their country if they can’t compel the majority to embrace their notions. Today, there are fewer but “better” Republicans — if “better” means adhering to the tea party view that a United States not adhering to tea party values deserves to be brought to a clangorous halt. NBC News-Wall Street Journal polling last week turned up a bare 24 percent of Americans who have a favorable impression of the Republican Party — a share almost as low as the 21 percent who have a favorable impression of the tea party.
Micah Beasley, Press Secretary
North Carolina Democratic Party
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