Boehner Signals He'll Cave To Stave Off Debt Default

With hours left before the U.S. Treasury could start defaulting on its obligation, House Speaker John Boehner finally appears to have relented to allow an end to the standoff using a mix of Democratic and Republican votes.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

And now comes the voting. Tonight, both the House and the Senate are expected to vote on a bipartisan deal to temporarily reopen the government and extend the debt limit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the deal on the Senate floor a little after noon today.

SENATOR HARRY REID: The compromise we reached will provide our economy with a stability it desperately needs. It's never easy for two sides to reach consensus. It's really hard, sometimes harder than others. This time was really hard.

CORNISH: We're joined now by NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith, who's been following the twists and turns of this story for weeks now. And, Tamara, let's start with the deal itself. What exactly will the Senate and then the House be voting on tonight?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: There are a number of parts here. They will reopen the government until January 15. They will lift the debt ceiling until February 7 with extraordinary measures from Treasury allowed after that. So in theory, the debt ceiling couldn't - could not become an issue until the spring or early summer. There would be income verification for people getting subsidies for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, though this may already be required under the law. And also, they would begin budget negotiations, start up a budget conference committee with a deadline of December 15.

CORNISH: And take us back a bit. This all started with House conservatives and a handful of hardliners in the Senate, most notably Senator Ted Cruz, saying that they would use the funding of the government as leverage to defund the Affordable Care Act. Now, in the end, this resolution doesn't seem to do a whole lot on that front, right? It doesn't talk about the health care law too much. So was it worth it?

KEITH: Texas Senator Ted Cruz was asked about that, and he took umbrage with the idea that Republicans had lost in this. He says that he was just happy to have had this conversation with the American public about the health care law, and he believes that there was value in taking a stand.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: We saw the House of Representatives take a courageous stand listening to the American people that everyone in official Washington just weeks earlier said would never happen. That was a remarkable victory to see the House engage in a profile in courage. Unfortunately, the Senate chose not to follow the House.

KEITH: And the people he blames are sort of squishy Senate Republicans who others have described as defeatist. One of those is Senator Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire, who says that all along moderates have been asking what is the end game here, since she didn't feel it was winnable. The question was, how do you defund the health care law?

I never got an answer to that. I don't think there still is an answer to that. So if we learned nothing else from this whole exercise, I hope we learned that we shouldn't get behind a strategy that cannot succeed.

CORNISH: Now, House Speaker John Boehner has been the focus of this fight all along as he's tried to unify the Republican conference and faced a lot of questions about his grasp on power. Now what did he have to say about the outcome here, and what does this mean for his standing as a leader?

KEITH: He called into a local talk show in Cincinnati, and he said that we fought the good fight. We just didn't win. And he's encouraging his Republicans to vote for it. Now, it's not clear how many actually will because many simply don't support it. They feel it doesn't go far enough.

But as for his power, the fact that he drew this out as long as he did actually won him a lot of support from House Republicans, including those who haven't really been with him all along. One of them is Mick Mulvaney. He's a South Carolina Republican, and he was part of an effort earlier this year to try and overthrow Speaker Boehner. I asked him about the speaker's footing coming out of this.

REPRESENTATIVE MICK MULVANEY: One hundred percent solid.

KEITH: Why? Explain.

MULVANEY: Because no one blames him. You know my background with the speaker. I don't think he could have done this any better than he did.

CORNISH: And, Tamara, to use a Washington phrase, this deal actually kicks the can down the road. What happens in the middle of January and again in February when Congress faces similar deadlines again?

KEITH: There's some hope that perhaps this budget conference committee could reach some sort of an agreement that could get us off of the crisis treadmill. It's not clear that that will actually work. Republicans say they plan to keep fighting the fight on Obamacare, though one House conservative said - and he said he was committing candor - he admitted that Republicans have even less leverage going into the next - going into this the next time around.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Tamara, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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