Senator: US budget, debt deal in hand

2013-10-16 17:31
An American woman protests outside the Capitol building in Washington DC as Congress battled inside over its budget, resulting in a government shutdown. (Evan Vucci, AP)

An American woman protests outside the Capitol building in Washington DC as Congress battled inside over its budget, resulting in a government shutdown. (Evan Vucci, AP)

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Washington - Senate leaders agreed to a bipartisan plan on Wednesday to avert a threatened Treasury default and reopen the federal government after a 16-day closure, according to a Republican senator.

Senator Kelly Ayotte also said the House of Representatives might vote first on the plan to speed its way through Congress.

"I understand they've come to an agreement but I'm going to let the leader announce that," Ayotte said as she walked into a meeting of Senate Republicans called to review details of the emerging deal struck with Democrats who control the Senate.

The deal could reach President Barack Obama's desk before Thursday, when the US Treasury says it will begin running out of cash unless Congress increases the government's debt limit.

The new Senate plan's passage in the Republican-controlled House could require House Speaker John Boehner put the measure to a vote as is and depend heavily on minority Democrats to support it.

The move is risky and seen as imperilling the House leadership, but Boehner was apparently ready to do it and end the crisis that has badly damaged Republican approval among voters.

'The people are tired'

In the Senate, Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had resumed talks on Tuesday night and were expected to soon announce details of the plan that was seen as acceptable to both houses of Congress.

Driving the urgency was not only the calendar but also fears that financial markets would plunge without a deal. Looking forward, lawmakers were also concerned voters would punish them in next year's congressional elections.

Polls show the public more inclined to blame Republicans.

"People are so tired of this," Obama said on Tuesday in an interview with Los Angeles TV station KMEX.

The shutdown began on 1 October after House Republicans refused to accept a temporary funding measure to provide the money to run the government unless Obama agreed to defund or delay his health care overhaul law.

House Republicans also refused to move on needed approval for raising the amount of money the Treasury can borrow to pay US bills.

The hard-right tea party faction of House Republicans, urged on by conservative Texas Republican Ted Cruz in the Senate, has seen both deadlines as a weapon to get their way on gutting the health care overhaul, designed to provide tens of millions of uninsured Americans with coverage.

The White House refused to abandon Obama's signature legislative achievement, and the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected legislation to achieve the Republicans' goal.

Obamacare still on table

House Republicans have since dropped their demands to gut the health care law known as Obamacare.

But Congress still struggles to pass two measures that are normally routine: an emergency funding bill to keep the government running and legislation to raise the $16.7-trillion borrowing limit.

The Senate deal was expected to set a mid-December deadline for bipartisan budget negotiators to report on efforts to reach compromise on longer-term issues like spending cuts.

And it likely would require the Obama administration to certify it can verify the income of people who qualify for federal subsidies for medical insurance under the 2010 health care law.

The emerging Senate pact had been put on hold Tuesday, an extraordinary day that highlighted how unruly rank-and-file House Republicans can be, even when the stakes are high.

Facing solid Democratic opposition, Boehner tried in vain to write legislation that would satisfy Republican lawmakers, especially hardcore conservatives in the tea party caucus.

Boehner crafted two versions of the bill, but neither made it to a House vote because both faced certain defeat.

Working against him was word during the day from the influential conservative group Heritage Action for America that his legislation was not conservative enough — a worrisome threat for many Republican lawmakers whose biggest electoral fears are of primary election challenges from the right.

Primary votes determine which candidate makes it to the ballot for general elections.

Heritage Action said Boehner's proposal "will do absolutely nothing to help Americans who are negatively impacted by Obamacare".

The last of Boehner's two bills had the same dates as the emerging Senate plan on the debt limit and shutdown.

It also blocked federal payments for the president, members of Congress and other officials to help pay for their health care coverage.

And it prevented the Obama administration from shifting funds among different accounts - as past Treasury secretaries have done - to let the government keep paying bills for weeks after the federal debt limit has been reached.

Republicans in the Senate, who must be elected on a statewide basis rather than in smaller congressional districts drawn up to secure a Republican advantage, were eager to end the partial government shutdown and avoid an even greater crisis if the government were to default.

The shutdown, the first in 17 years, has furloughed more than 400 000 federal workers.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  john boehner  |  us  |  us shutdown  |  us economy

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