At last, with a deal that passed the Senate 81 to 18 and the House 285 to 144 Wednesday, the government shutdown has ended, and a default of the U.S. government on its debt has been averted.
Had House Speaker John Boehner allowed legislation written along the contours of the bill now known as HR 2775 come to the floor on September 30, it likely would have passed with a solid majority of Democratic votes, averting the crisis of the last two weeks. At issue was the continuing resolution needed to maintain government operations, and, more recently, legislative action that would allow the Treasury Department to pay the interest on the national debt.
Until Wednesday night’s vote, however, Boehner only brought legislation to the floor that would pass the House with a majority of Republican votes, in full knowledge that they would never pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.
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These were versions of a government funding bill (HJ Res. 59) to which Tea Party-allied members of Congress attached, variously, measures that would have revoked funding for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a one-year delay in the health-care program, or a one-year delay in the activation of the preventive health provisions in the law that include the birth control benefit. (Rules issued by the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] mandate that all health insurance plans, including those that are part of the compensation packages earned by employees from their employers, cover prescription contraception with no deductible and no co-pay.)
In the end, House Republicans got virtually nothing of what they said they wanted: no defunding of Obamacare, no gutting of congressional staffers’ pay (which some hoped to do by repealing the employer subsidy for staffers’ health insurance), and no curtailment of the birth control benefit in the preventive services provision of the ACA, the legislation that made Obamacare the law of the land. Instead, these self-proclaimed “fiscally conservative” warriors cost the national economy some $24 billion.
If Republicans can claim any sort of victory for having caused pain and economic disruption in the lives of hundreds of thousands of government workers and contractors, and the communities that depend on their labor and income, it’s that they managed to keep the degrading sequester cuts—enacted the last time they held the government hostage—that force a regime of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in all federal agencies at the beginning of each fiscal year.
But that didn’t stop Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the instigator of the obstruction agenda of House Tea Party members, from declaring a win. “The House of Representatives … deserves to be commended,” he said in a statement. “They have taken a bold stance and listened to the American people, but unfortunately, the United States Senate has taken the traditional approach of protecting the status quo.”
Cruz, who is eying a 2016 presidential bid, vowed to fight on against Obamacare. And he’s still taking aim at the birth control benefit, even resorting to lies—as he did in his appearance on Friday at the right-wing Values Voter Summit—about the nature of the prescriptions it covers, falsely calling them “abortifacients.”
Although 87 of the 232 House Republicans voted for the compromise bill, which was hammered out between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the House committee chairmen were not among those
yes votes, most notably Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), who, acting on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, argued for an amendment that would have allowed employers to opt out of the HHS rules on the birth control benefit as a matter of “conscience.”
But the deal that passed Congress Wednesday is a mere stop-gap. In January, unless a budget deal is worked out between the House and the Senate, another continuing resolution will be required to keep the government open. And the need to raise the debt ceiling will arise again in February.
Paul Ryan will be negotiating that budget deal with Sen. Patty Murray (R-WA), who chairs the Senate Budget Committee. If the two chambers fail to come to an agreement, a confrontation such as the one that just ended stands in the offing. And the Catholic bishops are unlikely to relent on their demand that employers be permitted to deprive employees of contraception health-care coverage.