Budget Process Isn't Over. Are More Shutdowns Ahead?

By wide margins in both the House and the Senate, Congress voted Wednesday night to end a 16-day partial government shutdown. The measure also delays the debt ceiling deadline until early February. House and Senate Budget committees have until Dec. 13 to reconcile competing budgets.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Congress voted last night to end a 16-day government shutdown and avert the possibility that the U.S. government would default on its debt today. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, and by a comfortable margin in the House. Both fixes last until early next year. It's possible the crisis could then return, though many lawmakers are hoping to use the next few months returning to the regular method of passing routine budgets.

NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Before the Senate voted 81 to 18 for the deal that Majority Leader Harry Reid hammered out with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Reid sought to strike a conciliatory note. It was clearly aimed at that chamber's Republicans, who've been deeply split over the wisdom of trying to force changes in the Affordable Care Act by shutting down the government.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR HARRY REID: This is not a time for pointing fingers or blame. This is a time of reconciliation.

WELNA: For his part, GOP leader McConnell said Republicans remained determined to repeal Obamacare, which he called a terrible law. But for now, he said, they'd have to settle for reopening the government and averting a debt default.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: This is far less than many of us had hoped for, frankly. But it's far better than what some had sought.

WELNA: House Speaker John Boehner, whose own effort to end the budget crisis on Tuesday collapsed for lack of support from his fellow Republicans, avoided any public appearances yesterday. Boehner did call radio station WLW in Cincinnati, though, to admit defeat.

(SOUNDBITE OF WLW BROADCAST)

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Listen, we've been locked in a fight over here, trying to bring government down to size, trying to do our best to stop Obamacare, And we fought the good fight. We just didn't win.

WELNA: It fell to Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky to sell the deal passed by the Senate to House Republicans.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

REPRESENTATIVE HAL ROGERS: We should be willing to put partisanship aside and govern for the greater good. The House must realize it is just one half of one third of this government, and that no laws can be made without the consent of the Senate and the president.

WELNA: In the end, 144 Republicans - including Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan - voted against reopening the government and restoring the Treasury's borrowing authority. Eighty-seven Republicans voted in favor, along with every voting Democrat. New York Democrat Nita Lowey told her GOP colleagues it was time to change.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

REPRESENTATIVE NITA LOWEY: I urge the majority to learn the lesson of this irresponsible shutdown: Do not allow the fringe in your party - those disconnected from reality and whose sole goal is obstruction - to continue to dictate the agenda of this House.

WELNA: So would the same Republicans who tried forcing changes in Obamacare by using budget deadlines try doing it again? North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr hopes not.

SENATOR RICHARD BURR: I said before I thought it was a dumb strategy, and I think to reinstitute that would be a dumb strategy.

WELNA: But while Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz did not block yesterday's deal, he vowed he's not backing down in his fight to end Obamacare. He blamed his fellow Senate Republicans for losing this fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR TED CRUZ: Unfortunately, the Senate chose not to follow the House, and in particular, we saw real division among Senate Republicans. That was unfortunate. I would point out that had Senate Republicans united and supported House Republicans, the outcome of this, I believe, would have been very, very different.

WELNA: Last month, Cruz held the Senate floor for 21 hours, trying to gin up support for defunding Obamacare. Yesterday, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar dinged that performance, declaring on the Senate floor that the resolution of this latest crisis bears a clear lesson.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: I think it shows what courage is going to be in the next year in this chamber and in the Congress. It's not going to just be standing here by yourself, making a speech with no one there. Courage is going to be whether or not you're willing to stand next to someone you don't always agree with for the betterment of this country.

WELNA: Such a willingness to work with ideological opposites will be put to a test in the coming weeks. As part of the crisis-ending deal, the House and Senate Budget Committees have until December 13th to reconcile their competing budgets, or risk more showdowns early next year.

MONTAGNE: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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