TOPICS > Politics

Senate nears end of standoff with bipartisan plan on spending and debt ceiling

October 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
The Senate was poised to support a bipartisan deal to fund the government though Jan. 15 and extend the debt limit until Feb. 17, just hours before the U.S. would have to default. Congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports. Gwen Ifill gets an update on the last-minute efforts from Lori Montgomery of The Washington Post.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Our lead story tonight: The end is finally in sight in the political stalemate that closed part of the government and threatened national default. Senators crafted a compromise today, and House Republicans threw in the towel.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

WOMAN: The majority leader.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senate leaders took the floor at midday, deal in hand.

The chamber’s top Democrat, Harry Reid:

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: This legislation ends a standoff that ground the work of Washington to a halt this fall. Madam President, this is not a time for pointing fingers or blame. This is a time of reconciliation.

Related Video

KWAME HOLMAN: The leader of the Republican minority, Mitch McConnell, said both sides had to give.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: For today, the relief we hope for is to reopen the government, avoid default, and protect the historic cuts we achieved under the Budget Control Act. This is far less than many of us had hoped for, frankly, but it’s far better what some had sought.

KWAME HOLMAN: The framework came from a bipartisan group of 14 senators, led by Republican Susan Collins of Maine.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-Maine: This great country deserves a Congress that can govern. And that was the unifying theme of our group.

KWAME HOLMAN: The agreement they worked out funds government operations for three months at reduced spending levels already in place. And it raises the debt ceiling through February 7.

The deal also calls for a congressional panel to negotiate a long-term deficit reduction package. And it requires that Americans verify incomes to qualify for subsidies under the new health care law. That was the sole section related to Obamacare, after Republicans spent weeks trying to block or delay parts of the law.

Last month, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a leading Tea Party conservative, filibustered over the issue. Today, he said he’d vote no, but wouldn’t try to delay action.

SEN. TED CRUZ, R-Texas: I have no objections to the timing of this vote. And the reason is simple: There is nothing to be gained from delaying this vote one day or two days. The outcome will be the same. Every senator, every member of the House is going to have to make a decision where he or she stands.

KWAME HOLMAN: Arizona Republican John McCain, meanwhile, had opposed the shutdown, and he voiced relief today.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: I think it’s obvious that we are now seeing the end of this agonizing odyssey that this body has been put through, but, far more importantly, the American people have been put through. It’s one of the more shameful chapters that I have seen in the years that I have spent here in the Senate.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senators resurrected their plan late yesterday after competing proposals floated from House Republicans reportedly failed to gain support from conservatives. By then, the pressure to act had ratcheted up considerably, with the financial world warning about the effects of default, including a possible downgrade of the government’s AAA credit rating.

On the other hand, there was pressure from outside conservative groups to oppose the plan. Much of that pressure was aimed at House Republicans, who met this afternoon to evaluate how to proceed with the Senate proposal.

Going in, Speaker John Boehner told a Cincinnati radio station his side had done all it could.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: We have been locked in a fight over here, trying to — trying to bring government down to size, trying to do our best to stop Obamacare. We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win.

KWAME HOLMAN: After the meeting, Boehner issued a statement, saying House Republicans would not try to block the Senate bill.

At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Obama planned to sign the bill, but he stopped short of claiming victory.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: There are no winners here. We said that from the beginning, and we’re going to say it right up to the end, because it’s true. The American people have paid a price for this.

KWAME HOLMAN: Wall Street applauded the breakthrough. The Dow industrials gained more than 205 points on the day, while the Nasdaq rose 45 points.

GWEN IFILL: We go now to Capitol Hill and Lori Montgomery of The Washington Post, who has been following the day’s developments.

Yesterday, Lori, there was a dealing in the morning. Then it collapsed by evening. Today, it looks like there’s a deal again in the Senate. Everybody’s about to vote and ratify that. John McCain, you just heard, called it an agonizing odyssey.

What changed today?

LORI MONTGOMERY, The Washington Post: Well, what changed today is that we saw that John Boehner couldn’t move legislation yesterday.

They left last night really with no explanation for why they called off the vote, but it was clear to everybody that they could not put together a package that would get the support of 217 Republicans, so it really left Reid and McConnell with no choice.

They had to revive these talks, which had actually been put on hold to gave Boehner chance to try to consolidate his hold on his own caucus. That didn’t happen.

GWEN IFILL: So, it seems like there were a lot of key senators involved in finally forcing the issue. One was Mitch McConnell, as you mentioned. The other was Ted Cruz. How did they sort out their differences today?

LORI MONTGOMERY: Well, Cruz is apparently not going to support the bill, but Republican leaders were having some conversations with him and his allies on the right this week, saying, look, if we get a deal, you can’t stand in the way of this. We have got to make this Thursday deadline.

So Cruz agreed that he would not block anything. The Senate is fixing to vote here, thinking about in an hour, and they can move very rapidly to approve the thing and send it over to the House.

GWEN IFILL: And Mitch McConnell’s role?

LORI MONTGOMERY: Well, McConnell is facing a very difficult reelection campaign back home in Kentucky, and he did not want to be in this position.

He did not want to be negotiating another difficult deal that didn’t deliver the goods for the conservative right. But, in the end, you have to hand it to him. He went to work, he got the job done, and he’s marshaling the votes to make sure the country doesn’t face a global financial cataclysm.

GWEN IFILL: In the end, were there any health care concessions from the White House in this final deal? And did the White House have a hidden hand in crafting it?

LORI MONTGOMERY: The White House pretty much stayed out of things, at the request of Democrats. I mean, you could almost see Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader, relishing this opportunity to sort of, you know, hand it to the Republicans and say, no, we’re not going to give you this stuff.

And in the end, they got very little. They got an agreement that the health secretary would confirm that she could prevent fraud in the distribution of tax subsidies for people to buy insurance, but she was supposed to do that anyway. So it’s really hard to see how they can claim that as a victory.

GWEN IFILL: Yesterday, one of the key shifts in the afternoon with votes happened after the Heritage Action Fund, this conservative advocacy group, suggested that Republicans vote no, and the Club for Growth as well. And they both said the same thing again today.

Why isn’t that derailing the deal today the way it did yesterday?

LORI MONTGOMERY: Well, what you’re seeing today, I think, is people, especially in the House, waking up to the realization that they contributed to a 16-day government shutdown, they have once again rattled the economy by threatening not to let the Treasury pay bills, and you’re seeing Republicans in the middle saying, we don’t really like this, and we’re not really sure we want to be involved in this again.

So, Republicans are predicting a fairly strong vote for this bill, well over 100 members, more than half the caucus, because moderate — well, I can’t call them moderates, but center-right lawmakers want to send a message to this hard-line fringe that, look, we have got to figure out a way to work with Democrats and make our government work.

GWEN IFILL: Lori Montgomery of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

LORI MONTGOMERY: Thanks for having me.