By George E. Curry
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – President Barack Obama signed a bill into law early Thursday morning that ended the 16-day government shutdown and averted an impending financial crisis by raising the debt ceiling.
After Obama and Democrats defeated repeated efforts over the past two weeks by House Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the president’s signature health care achievement, the Senate passed the budget measure Wednesday night by a vote of 81-18 followed several hours later by a 285-144 vote in the Republican-controlled House. In the House, 87 Republicans joined the solidly united Democrats to assure the victory. All of the “no” votes in both chambers were cast by Republicans.
The Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014 is retroactive to Oct. 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, and funds the government through Jan. 15, 2014. The debt limit has been extended through Feb. 7.
President Obama signed the bill around 12:30 a.m., which set the stage for Thursday’s reopening of the nation’s parks and monuments, returning furloughed federal employees to work and restoring shutdown government services.
Shortly before 1 a.m. Thursday, the Office of Management and Budget issued a formal memorandum ordering federal agencies to reopen.
“Today, the President signed a continuing resolution that brings employees back to work and reopens many government functions,” OMB Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in the memo addressed to all heads of executive departments and agencies.
“All employees who were on furlough due to the absence of appropriations may now return to work. You should re-open offices in a prompt and orderly manner.”
Although ending the shutdown was a clear victory for President Obama, he struck a conciliatory tone.
“I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I am willing to work with anybody, I am eager to work with anybody – Democrat or Republican, House or Senate members – on any idea that will grow our economy, create new jobs, strengthen the middle class, and get our fiscal house in order for the long term,” Obama said in a brief, oddly-timed White House appearance Wednesday night between the Senate and House voting. “I’ve never believed that Democrats have a monopoly on good ideas. And despite the differences over the issue of shutting down our government, I’m convinced that Democrats and Republicans can work together to make progress for America.”
Regardless of whether President Obama wants to publicly admit it, the vote was an undeniable victory for the White House over Tea Party activists who shut down the federal government in an unsuccessful attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said, “If we learn nothing else, I hope we learn we shouldn’t get behind a strategy that has no endgame.”
The agreement lifts the $16.7 trillion debt limit, allowing the U.S. to pay its bills. Standard & Poor’s dropped the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+ after the 2011 debt ceiling crisis. Another credit rating agency, Fitch, said earlier in the week that it might follow suit if the U.S. defaulted on its obligations. A third credit rating agency, Moody’s, still has the U.S. rated AAA.
The White House made a minor concession by agreeing to require verification of the income of those qualifying for health insurance subsidies.