Shutdown, debt deal reached; government open ... for now

(RNN) - President Barack Obama has signed a bill to end the two and a half week government shutdown and the federal government is once again open for business.

By a vote of 285-144, the House passed a bill Wednesday to keep the government funded through the New Year, setting up another possible budget battle in January.

The bill previously made its way through the Senate, where it passed 81-18.

"There's a lot of work ahead of us, including the need to earn back the trust of the American people which we've lost over the last couple of weeks," Obama said, speaking from the White House Wednesday after the Senate vote.

Terms of the deal include funding the government through Jan. 15, 2014, and allows the U.S. Treasury to continue borrowing money through Feb. 7, 2014 - avoiding default. However, the country could watch the a similar drama play out in three months if a long-term budget plan can't be voted upon.

The bill offers back pay to furloughed federal workers. It also means hundreds of thousands of federal workers will return to the office Thursday.

Additionally, a December deadline has been set for lawmakers to create a detailed plan on long-term spending cuts, and include income verification on the healthcare exchanges set up by the government as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

"For today, the relief we hope for is to reopen the government, avoid default, and protect the historic cuts we achieved under the Budget Control Act," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor. "This is far less than many of us had hoped for, frankly, but it's far better than what some had sought. Now it's time for Republicans to unite behind other crucial goals."

After speaking with the House Republican caucus, Speaker John Boehner said the GOP leadership would not block the vote and support a Senate agreement created by Sens. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell.

"We fought the good fight, we just didn't win," Boehner told the caucus.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX,  said he would not block a Senate vote. Cruz, a tea party favorite, led the charge against the Affordable Care Act during the shutdown, spurring the House Republicans to attach amendments to defund 'Obamacare' that would not pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The bill was passed just before the U.S. reached the debt ceiling, and a day after the Fitch credit rating agency announced they would review and possibly downgrade the U.S. government's AAA rating.

Standard and Poor said the shutdown cost he U.S. economy $24 billion, and if debt ceiling had not been raised, "a default by the U.S. government on its debts would be devastating for markets and the economy and worse than the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008."

The collapse of Lehman Brothers was the beginning of the economic collapse of 2008 and the Great Recession.

With the announcement of the deal before the bill passed, the Dow Jones Industrial average surged 200 points.

Although Wall Street and government workers breathed a temporary sigh of relief, the compromise means the government could be right back in the same situation just after the holidays.

Reid and McConnell resumed negotiations Tuesday evening after Republicans in the House failed to craft legislation a majority of their party could support. Speaker John Boehner wrote two bills in attempt to appease both the moderate and tea party Republicans to end the shutdown. Neither bill made it to the House floor because it did not have enough support to pass.

Tea party Republicans originally tied defunding the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to a budget bill. But when that became unpopular with voters and focus shifted toward raising the debt ceiling, Republicans began fighting among themselves.

"It's very, very serious," Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, told the New York Times. "Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle, as I predicted weeks ago, that we would not be able to win because we were demanding something that was not achievable.

The shutdown started at midnight, Oct. 1 when Congress failed to pass a budget before the end of the fiscal year.

The shutdown suspended all federal services deemed nonessential, furloughing hundreds of thousands of government employees.

Among the government entities that closed were federally funded museums, such as the Smithsonian, along with the nation's 401 national parks. NASA was almost completely shuttered, except for mission control, which is overseeing operations with the International Space Station.

Shortly after the shutdown, Congress passed and the president signed legislation to ensure members of the military would not see a delay in pay during the shutdown.

A week and a half into the shutdown, a number of states eventually negotiated the temporary reopening of national parks like the Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore for the Columbus Day weekend, with the states footing the bill.

Some furloughed workers were recalled during the shutdown, including 800 employees from the FAA, as well as a number of FEMA employees who had to deal with the effects of what was once Tropical Storm Karen.

The House and Senate volleyed a flurry of budget bills back and forth ahead of the Sept. 30 midnight deadline. The Republican-led House pushed for legislation that would fund the government, but strip the president's signature healthcare law, Obamacare, of some of its provisions, something the Democratic-led Senate would not approve.

The impasse led to the first government shutdown in 17 years, with both sides trading blame.

After the shutdown, Republicans proposed to reopen portions of the government with individual measures that would fund national parks, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Washington, DC, government, among others.

White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage called the efforts "piecemeal" and "not serious."

A poll by CNN/ORC International released Oct. 7, a week into the shutdown, shows both parties took a hit from constituents. The poll showed 63 percent were angry at Republicans, 57 percent were angry at Democrats and 53 percent were angry at Obama for their handling of the shutdown.

Passing a budget has been a difficult task in an increasingly partisan Washington in recent years. The last full budget was passed was in 2009. The government has been funded by short-term stopgap solutions since.

The last government shutdown began in December 1995 and lasted for three weeks into early 1996.

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