Finally Over, Showdown Tees Up New Battles

US President Barack Obama arrives to speak about the government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, October 16, 2013.
National Journal
Billy House, Tim Alberta, Elahe Izadi and Michael Catalini
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Billy House Tim Alberta Elahe Izadi Michael Catalini
Oct. 16, 2013, 7:46 p.m.

The de­fi­cit-ceil­ing stale­mate and 16-day gov­ern­ment shut­down cost the eco­nomy bil­lions, put tens of thou­sands out of work, made some little-known con­gress­men fam­ous, and tested the bal­ance of power in Con­gress.

Yet as law­makers ended the stan­doff with a hard-fought agree­ment, many poin­ted to a land­scape left largely un­changed, with fisc­al fights as­sured in the months ahead and long-stand­ing polit­ic­al dif­fer­ences left un­re­solved.

“The battle is over,” said Rep. Aus­tin Scott, R-Ga., a tea-party fa­vor­ite who was pres­id­ent of the House GOP fresh­man class in 2011, “but the war has just be­gun.”

The agree­ment ap­proved by both cham­bers late Wed­nes­day night will end the gov­ern­ment shut­down when Pres­id­ent Obama signs it, as he has prom­ised to do, and main­tains gov­ern­ment fund­ing through Jan. 15. Fed­er­al agen­cies — and the Con­gress — will re­open with em­ploy­ees ex­pec­ted back at work Thursday, ac­cord­ing to the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Budget. A pro­vi­sion for back pay is in­cluded.

The meas­ure also ex­tends the na­tion’s abil­ity to bor­row — which the ad­min­is­tra­tion said would be ex­hausted Thursday — through Feb. 7. The Treas­ury De­part­ment will be per­mit­ted to use ex­traordin­ary meas­ures to bor­row after that date, if it needs to, which could ex­tend the dead­line. There’s also a mech­an­ism for Con­gress to vote in fa­vor of a “mo­tion to dis­ap­prove” any in­crease the pres­id­ent an­nounces, but Obama can veto that and force an over­ride ef­fort.

The agree­ment paved the way for the House and Sen­ate to con­fer­ence on the budget, which Sen­ate Demo­crats have been seek­ing for months. Headed by Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash., and House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an, R-Wis., the com­mit­tee will im­me­di­ately be­gin de­bat­ing large dif­fer­ences between Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats, start­ing with topline spend­ing levels and wheth­er those levels will in­clude se­quest­ra­tion.

In fact, Mur­ray, Ry­an, Rep. Chris Van Hol­len, D-Md., and Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, R-Ala., are sched­uled to meet over break­fast Thursday to dis­cuss the path for­ward. But many are pess­im­ist­ic that the com­mit­tee can re­solve is­sues that have plagued Con­gress for years in time to re­port back for a mid-Decem­ber dead­line.

Van Hol­len, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the House Budget Com­mit­tee, was already lay­ing down mark­ers for Re­pub­lic­ans on Wed­nes­day. “They shouldn’t think they’re go­ing to be able to use these new dead­lines to make par­tis­an de­mands,” he said.

In­deed, Demo­crats in both cham­bers emerge from the battle with some claim to the up­per hand, with House Re­pub­lic­ans, led by the con­ser­vat­ive wing of the con­fer­ence, hav­ing fallen short of their goals to way­lay the Af­ford­able Care Act, cut man­dat­ory spend­ing, and pur­sue oth­er re­forms.

The one Obama­care-re­lated pro­vi­sion that made it in­to the agree­ment will re­quire the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices sec­ret­ary to cer­ti­fy to Con­gress that prop­er in­come-veri­fic­a­tion pro­ced­ures are in place be­fore any sub­sidies are doled out to Amer­ic­ans who qual­i­fy for fed­er­al help buy­ing in­sur­ance on the new ex­changes. The HHS sec­ret­ary will also be re­quired to re­lease a re­port on Jan. 1, the day the in­di­vidu­al man­date to ob­tain in­sur­ance goes in­to ef­fect, out­lining how the health in­sur­ance mar­ket­places will veri­fy that every­one who re­ceives a sub­sidy qual­i­fies. Fi­nally, the HHS in­spect­or gen­er­al will be re­quired to re­port on how well those veri­fic­a­tion pro­ced­ures are work­ing by Ju­ly 1, 2014.

This is not a ma­jor change to the con­ten­tious 2010 health-re­form law, al­though it will give Con­gress the op­por­tun­ity for ad­di­tion­al over­sight as the re­ports are re­leased — and per­haps ad­di­tion­al fuel for Re­pub­lic­an cri­ti­cism.

In the Sen­ate, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id held his Demo­crats to­geth­er in a hardened de­fense against Re­pub­lic­an de­mands, and was re­war­ded with a chance to ne­go­ti­ate from the high ground on the budget mov­ing for­ward. “The unity was an im­port­ant part of the ul­ti­mate out­come,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.

There’s also no doubt that the stan­doff was tough on House Speak­er John Boehner, whose man­age­ment of the House ma­jor­ity was re­peatedly called in­to ques­tion, but who ul­ti­mately won a stand­ing ova­tion from his con­fer­ence — and much praise from in­di­vidu­al Re­pub­lic­ans of all stripes — at a Wed­nes­day meet­ing.

In­deed, many House Re­pub­lic­ans re­fused to bow their heads, say­ing that the stan­doff was a learn­ing ex­per­i­ence that ul­ti­mately drew the con­fer­ence to­geth­er, even if the ef­forts res­ul­ted in what most ex­perts are tal­ly­ing as a loss.

“It’s pretty hard when he has a circle of 20 people that step up every day, and say, “˜Can we sur­render today, Mr. Speak­er?’ “ said Rep. Tim Huel­skamp, R-Kan., who dis­missed cent­rist Re­pub­lic­ans as “the sur­render caucus.”

He ad­ded: “All they do is whine about the battle, as if they thought be­ing elec­ted to Wash­ing­ton was go­ing to be an easy job.”

But oth­ers said that the stan­doff, which was costly both in polit­ic­al and eco­nom­ic terms (the rat­ings agency Stand­ard & Poor’s es­tim­ated on Wed­nes­day that the shut­down took roughly $24 bil­lion out of the eco­nomy), could im­pact the polit­ic­al cli­mate mov­ing for­ward.

Obama sug­ges­ted Wed­nes­day night that elec­ted lead­ers “need to earn back the trust of the Amer­ic­an people” and “get out of the habit of gov­ern­ing by crisis.”

Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y., also said there may have been les­sons learned. As he put it, “Per­haps, mov­ing for­ward, the polit­ics of brink­man­ship [and] of con­front­a­tion have reached their peak.”

Catherine Hollander and Ben Terris contributed to this article.
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