PI Original Aricka Flowers Thursday October 17th, 2013, 2:40pm

Government Shutdown Ends, Debt Ceiling Crisis Averted — For Now

The federal government is now open, workers are back on the job and the debt ceiling deadline of October 17 was barely met following a late night for Congress and the president. Progress Illinois takes a look the new deal, the effects of the government shutdown and what's next for Congress.

The federal government is now open, workers are back on the job and the debt ceiling deadline of October 17 was barely met following a late night for Congress and the president. 

The House voted 285-144 to pass a bill that would fund the government through January 15 and raise the debt ceiling until February 7. The Senate, which introduced the plan, passed the measure first by a 81-18 vote Wednesday evening. The bill will also provide back pay for all furloughed employees during the government shutdown, allows the U.S. Treasury to use "extraordinary measures", and calls for income verification for those looking to be granted federal subsidies when applying for health care coverage via the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The measure also requires the House and Senate to reach an agreement on a long-term budget package by December 13. 

While some say the bill only kicks things down the road for a short time, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he expects the outcome of the fiasco over the last 16 days to prevent more mayhem when the new deadlines arrive.

“The Republican Party has learned a lesson here. I think you’re going to see more of a mainstream Republican Party. I don’t think we’re going to see the same kind of brinkmanship on January 15 and February 7,” the congressman said, adding that he thinks "the Tea Party and Ted Cruz have peaked."

Notably, Tea Partier Randy Hultgren (R-IL,14), of DuPage County, was the only member of the Illinois Congressional Delegation to vote 'no' on the deal.  

"Overall, I had no desire to see the government shut down, no desire to see our debts not paid, but I am very concerned about the larger picture: $17 trillion in debt and significant increases in new entitlement programs and debt that will only increase taxes on my constituents," Hultugren told the Chicago Tribune.

The Illinois Republican admitted that the GOP did not see all they had hoped for in grinding the government to a halt. 

"I would give our leaders a lot of credit. I think they stayed strong on this," the congressman told the newspaper. "But yeah, we didn't achieve all that I hoped we'd achieve."

Even still, some Republicans, like Cruz, are continuing to puff out their chests with pride over their actions, arguing that the American people supported their decision to push the government into a shutdown.

"The media keeps asking, 'Was it worth it?' My answer is that it's always worth it to do the right thing," said U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who teamed up with Cruz on the plan to shutdown the government if spending was not married to the defunding of Obamacare. "Fighting against an abusive government in defense of protecting the individual rights of the American people is always the right thing."

But Lee and Cruz, who said yesterday that the fight against the ACA is not over, may be mistaken. Poll after poll has showed that the government shutdown was unpopular with Americans and the approval rating of Republicans has hit an all-time low, making some 17 seats possibly vulnerable in the 2014 election cycle. Earlier this week, an NBC/Wall St. Journal poll found that Americans blamed the GOP for the shutdown by a 22 point margin, 53 percent to 31 percent — which is an even larger margin than was seen in the last government shutdown that Republicans orchestrated back in 1995 through 1996. Also in that poll, the favorability of Republicans had plummeted to 24 percent and was down to just 21 percent for the Tea Party, yet again all-time lows in the poll's history.

Some Republicans admit that the tactic was damaging for their party.

"I never supported this strategy because I didn't think it was smart for the country or achievable," said U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who added that the outcome of the entire saga is "absurd."

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) does not want to see his party try this strategy again, saying that he hopes the GOP “learned a lesson that shutdowns and defaults shouldn't be a part of the way we do business.”

“They should be off limits,” he added. “We have plenty of other legislative tactics we can use.”

Although Democrats appear to have come out of the crisis a lot cleaner than the GOP in the court of public opinion, the president stressed that, "There are no winners here."

"These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy," Obama continued. "We don’t know yet the full scope of the damage, but every analyst out there believes it slowed our growth."

Pork or Necessities?

The bill also contained a number of smaller, unrelated provisions, including funding for projects along the Ohio River for Illinois and Kentucky, adding $2.1 billion for the project; death benefits for the widow of the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey; and $36 million in funding for the Forest Service, with an extra $600 million being put aside if funds for fighting wildfires dries up.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pushed back against insinuations that the extra funding in the bill, like the Ohio River project monies, are pork. Funding for the river project was put into the bill by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

“This is not an earmark. It saves the taxpayers lots of money and enables the Corps of Engineers to continue a project,” Reid said of the funds designated to Illinois and Kentucky for the river project.

The measure also reimburses five states, Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Dakota and Utah, that reopened their national parks during the shutdown using their own funds, and provides additional funding for the Maritime Security Program as well as the Federal Highway Administration. The highway funds are meant to pay for damaged bridges and roads in Colorado as a result of floods that took place in September.  

An Expensive How-To On Legislating

Ironically, the government shutdown, which was supposedly meant to save taxpayers money, has cost the nation billions of dollars. According to Standard and Poor's, the government shutdown reduced the gross domestic product by .6 percent in the third quarter, costing some $24 billion.

Obama detailed the damage the shutdown has had on the nation at both the domestic and international levels:

The agency that put America’s credit rating on watch the other day explicitly cited all of this, saying that our economy 'remains more dynamic and resilient' than other advanced economies, and that the only thing putting us at risk is — and I’m quoting here — 'repeated brinksmanship.' That’s what the credit rating agency said. That wasn’t a political statement; that was an analysis of what’s hurting our economy by people whose job it is to analyze these things.

That also happens to be the view of our diplomats who’ve been hearing from their counterparts internationally. Some of the same folks who pushed for the shutdown and threatened default claim their actions were needed to get America back on the right track, to make sure we’re strong. But probably nothing has done more damage to America’s credibility in the world, our standing with other countries, than the spectacle that we’ve seen these past several weeks. It’s encouraged our enemies. It’s emboldened our competitors. And it’s depressed our friends who look to us for steady leadership.

Standard & Poor's, which originally forecast a 3 percent growth rate for the GDP, reduced it to 2 percent, saying their "forecast did not hold" because they “thought politicians would have learned from 2011 and taken steps to avoid things like a government shutdown and the possibility of a sovereign default.”

Obama blasted Republicans for the government shutdown in his speech Thursday morning, challenging them to "win an election" instead of taking the government hostage when they don't get their way.

"Let’s work together to make government work better, instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse," said the president. "That’s not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government. You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country is about."

Obama also thanked government workers who are returning to their jobs and stressed their importance to the nation.

“I've got a simple message for all the dedicated and patriotic federal workers who’ve either worked without pay or been forced off the job without pay these past few weeks, including most of my own staff: Thank you," Obama said. "Thanks for your service. Welcome back. What you do is important. It matters."

"Don't let anybody else tell you differently," he added.

What's Next?

Congress and the president appear to be set to battle it out over immigration reform and the sequester cuts. As we previously reported, Obama said he was going to rally support for the House Democrats immigration reform bill following the end of the government shutdown and the debt ceiling crisis.

This morning, the president outlined three things he thinks the nation's leaders should focus on.

"Passing a budget; immigration reform; farm bill," Obama said. "Those are three specific things that would make a huge difference in our economy right now. And we could get them done by the end of the year if our focus is on what’s good for the American people. And that’s just the big stuff. There are all kinds of other things that we could be doing that don’t get as much attention."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said her party is looking to address spending levels that have been slashed by the sequester.

"As we know, this number is too low," Pelosi said. "As even the chairman of the committee has said, it's an unrealistic and ill-conceived number, and must be brought to an end."

Image: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

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