It was touch and go there for a while but Congress has finally done it! At the eleventh hour a budget deal was passed to end the government shutdown and avoid default before the October 17 debt ceiling deadline. Granted, not everyone was on board. Rep. Paul Ryan and Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz defiantly—though ultimately symbolically—opposed the bill that President Obama signed eagerly with the promise of reopening the government “immediately.” So what else is in this stop-gap legislation?
The Government Shutdown is Over
After two weeks of frenzy and furloughs, this bill promises to fund the federal government through January 15, allowing nearly 800,000 government employees to not only get back to work immediately but receive back pay for the time they were off.
The Debt Ceiling Has Been Raised
If you, like Steve Carell in Anchorman, have spent the past two weeks unsure what everyone’s been yelling about, the debt ceiling is just a fancy name for the maximum amount of money the government is allowed to borrow. So, if we were to reach our debt ceiling deadline of October 17, the U.S. would default on its debts, of which we have many, potentially causing a serious economic crisis. The deal signed last night managed to avoid allowing that to happen by raising the debt ceiling, allowing the Treasury to continue borrowing through February 7. The deal also endows the Treasury with the flexibility to avoid default at least for a period of time after that deadline—meaning it might be even longer until we have to go through this again.
Much to the chagrin of the House Republicans who effectively held the government hostage in an effort to defund the universal health care law unaffectionately known as Obamacare, the deal signed Wednesday night included no such cuts. The only minor concession given to Republicans with regards to the Affordable Care Act involves enacting a new set of procedures to verify the incomes of some insurance subsidy recipients.
House and Senate Must Play Nice
The bill instructs negotiators from both houses of Congress to let bygones be bygones and agree on a national budget by mid-December.
The Bill Is Not Exactly “Clean”
In addition to temporarily saving the U.S. economy from ruin, the debt deal also includes a provision to provide Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, the widow of the late New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, with $174,000. While Lautenberg, who died in June at 89 while still in office, was one of the 50 richest members of Congress with, as of 2012, a $56.8 million net worth, it is a Congressional tradition to honor a member’s death by making a one-time payment equivalent of a year’s salary to their surviving spouse.
Additional funding for a lock and dam project on the Ohio River that benefits none other than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky also managed to make its way into the debt deal.