Congress approves bill to end shutdown, avoid debt default

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2013 - Congress approved legislation (H.R. 2775) late last night that would end the federal government shutdown and avert a U.S. debt default.

The bill now advances to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law shortly.

The House voted 285-144 to end the 16-day stalemate. In support were 198 Democrats and 87 Republicans. In opposition were 144 Republicans and no Democrats.

The House vote came after the Senate approved the same legislation on an 81-18 vote, with only Republicans voting against.

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The legislation would extend the government's borrowing authority and reopen the doors for workers of federal departments, such as the USDA and EPA. It is not clear when workers will return to their posts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said a bipartisan group of 14 senators - seven Republicans with six Democrats and one independent - helped reach the long-awaited agreement.

The legislation would fund government agencies through Jan. 15 at fiscal year 2013 levels. The bill would avert a debt default through Feb. 7.

Further, the bill would create a conference committee, led by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to create a negotiated budget resolution in December.

“This compromise we reached will provide our economy with the stability it desperately needs,” Reid said. “It's never easy for two sides to reach consensus, it's really hard.”

Earlier, McConnell said it was time for Republicans to unite behind the package.

“This is far less than many of us had hoped for, frankly,” McConnell said, referencing attempts to stall Obamacare and other provisions. “But it's far better than what some had sought.”

After the deal was announced and before the votes, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the fight against Obamacare will continue as well as negotiations to address the debt.

“But blocking the bipartisan agreement reached by the members of the Senate will not be a tactic for us,” Boehner said. “In addition to the risk of default, doing so would open the door for the Democratic majority in Washington to raise taxes again.”

Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said he hopes as part of a sustainable budget plan lawmakers can reach a long-term agreement on a farm bill “to provide producers and consumers with certainty and to preserve the security Americans enjoy by our ability to independently generate food and fiber.”

Cochran said the Senate-passed bill could save about $23 billion over five years.

It remains unclear if the large number of furloughed USDA workers will return on Thursday or Friday. Also, stakeholders are eagerly awaiting the resumption of USDA agency reports.

The legislation also includes an additional $600 million for USDA wildfire management, which would become available if current funding is exhausted.

Further, the bill includes $36 million for the Interior Department for wildfire suppression activities, which would become available if current funding is available.

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