(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
The Senate approved a bill to reopen the government and avert default Wednesday night, 16 days into a government shutdown and a day before the Treasury Department’s debt limit deadline.
The legislation, crafted by negotiations between the Senate’s two leaders, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, passed on a wide bipartisan vote, 81-18, despite defections from the chamber’s most conservative members who had hoped to defund the president’s health care law in exchange for reopening the government. The cloture vote passed 83-16, with 16 Republicans voting to filibuster: Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Dean Heller of Nevada, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Jim Risch of Idaho, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and David Vitter of Louisiana. Two more Republicans, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, voted against final passage. Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., who recently underwent heart surgery, was absent.
All eyes are now on the House, where Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has supported the Reid-McConnell framework but likely will lose a large number of Republicans on the vote.
Marking the beginning of the end of a standoff that has taken a serious toll on the Republican party, Wednesday night’s vote sets up a budget conference committee that could begin to negotiate immediately (or when the Senate returns to Washington on Oct. 28 after a long recess) as well as funds the government until Jan. 15 and extends the debt limit to Feb. 7.
It’s unclear where conservative Republicans, led by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, will stand after a showdown that has turned a number of their GOP colleagues against them, but it’s clear Democrats believe that the fissure in the Republican Party and the dayslong control of conservatives willing to shutter the government in a doomed effort to defund Obamacare has bolstered their case moving forward.
Democrats largely got the clean extensions of both the continuing resolution and debt limit that they wanted without having to give major ground on their signature health care law, despite the tea party’s best efforts.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer told CNN that a minor concession related to the health care law really didn’t mean much at all.
“There’s a report from the secretary of HHS to see if it’s working, but there was verification — we believed in it — in the bill even before these negotiations began,” the New York Democrat said. “It is frankly a bit of a big leaf which we were happy to give, but that was not a negotiation.”
On the broader issue, Schumer said that the agreement could lead to more cooperation going forward.
“I believe that certainly in the Senate, and even in the House, the hard-right, tea party group of Republicans has been discredited not only by the poll numbers, but because they really didn’t have a strategy,” Schumer said. “Once everyone has learned that we Democrats are no longer going to cave to this kind of brinkmanship, they won’t try it again. So, we’ll have a much, much better next year than we did this year.”
“What’s happened here is that this extreme group has finally been stood up to, and now maybe in an ironic way Democrats have given mainstream Republicans some of the strength to go forward and negotiate on a reasonable basis where you get something and not everything,” Schumer said.
Sen. Thad Cochran, a veteran Republican appropriator from Mississippi expressed similar optimism on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, though he used far different language than the No. 3 Democratic leader.
“Under the Rules of the Senate, individual senators are provided with significant power to shape the activity of this body. That’s the way the Senate was designed to operate, and it has served this body and the country well. Recognizing that the rights entrusted to each of us can be powerful, we must be judicious in their application,” Cochran said. “We must always remember that each of us was elected by the people. If we work in cooperation, and even opposition, with a sense of realism and respect for ourselves and our institution, I believe this body can function effectively.”
“In getting past our current fiscal stalemates, I hope that we can next achieve a long-term agreement that we will reduce our debt through structural changes to government spending,” Cochran added.
As the current ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Cochran will be turning much of his attention to the immediate issue of a House-Senate farm bill conference, a measure that would generate its own budget savings on the mandatory side.