The epic budget battle that resulted in the first U.S. government shutdown in 17 years and led the nation to the brink of default again ended late Wednesday.
President Barack Obama signed the legislation reopening the federal government and raising the debt ceiling early Thursday morning, a few hours after it passed the House and Senate, and federal workers were told to report to work Thursday, ending a 16-day shutdown.
“We’ll begin reopening our government immediately,” Obama said in remarks before the House passed the bill. “And we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease from our businesses and from the American people.”
Officials at the U.S. Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration weren’t immediately available to comment early Thursday morning on the impact on federal facilities in Oak Ridge, where workers have been preparing for shutdowns and furloughs, including at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12 National Security Complex.
Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both Tennessee Republicans, voted for the last-minute, short-term agreement, which keeps the government open through Jan. 15 and raises the federal government’s debt ceiling through Feb. 7.
Tennessee’s two Democratic representatives also voted for it, while all seven Republican representatives—including East Tennessee congressmen Chuck Fleischmann, John J. Duncan Jr., and Scott DesJarlais—voted against it.
“Tonight’s vote was yet another move to kick the can down the road and does nothing to address our unmanageable debt,” said Fleischmann, a second-term legislator whose district includes Oak Ridge. “While I strongly believe the government has an obligation to pay its bills, we also have an obligation to address the true fiscal crisis facing our great nation. Until we take a serious look at the mandatory spending that’s driving our debt, we will continue to face these self-inflicted debt crises.”
The legislation, HR 2775, was approved 81-18 in the U.S. Senate and 285-144 in the House of Representatives.
“I voted in September against shutting down the government, and today I voted to reopen it and to make sure that the United States pays its bills on time,” Alexander said in a statement Wednesday evening. “We need to redouble our efforts to fix our country’s $16.7 trillion federal debt. We could start by passing the Corker-Alexander plan to reduce out-of-control entitlement spending by $1 trillion over the next 10 years.”
The federal government partially shut down Oct. 1 after Congress failed to pass a spending bill. Republicans had wanted to include a one-year delay in the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” and repeal a medical device tax. The final bill appeared to contain no major provisions related to the controversial health care law, and it was generally considered a defeat for Republicans.
“We fought the good fight,” House Speaker John Boehner told WLW radio in Ohio. “We just didn’t win.”
Corker suggested other efforts could have been more productive.
“It is beyond belief that Congress chose to pursue an effort that had no chance of success and wasted time that could have been spent putting in place spending reforms that will make our country stronger,” he said. “But I do consider it a victory that we forced adherence to the Budget Control Act spending restraints, which, for the first time since the 1950s, have caused us to reduce total government spending for two consecutive years. There’s much more work to do to get on a path to fiscal solvency, and I look forward to continuing that important work.”
Corker was referring to the Budget Control Act of 2011, which ended an earlier debt-ceiling crisis and put into place automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. The debate this month included discussion of whether to change the spending caps called for by that law.
Corker said that legislation helped reduce total government spending for two consecutive years.
“It will cause non-emergency discretionary spending to be decreased from $1.090 trillion in 2011 to $967 billion this year,” he said.
Representatives in the offices of Duncan and DesJarlais, who represent districts east and west of Oak Ridge, were not immediately available for comment.
But in an Oct. 2 statement, DesJarlais said the people he represents in the Fourth Congressional District are overwhelmingly opposed to the president’s health care law and have asked him to “hold the line” on its implementation.
“As I have said before, a temporary shutdown pales in comparison to the long-term negative consequences that ObamaCare will impose on our economy and our health care system,” DesJarlais said.
Note: This story was last updated at 10:45 a.m. Oct. 21.
See the Senate roll call vote here.
The New York Times has posted a flow chart showing back-and-forth over the shutdown and debt ceiling.