License article

Deal struck to avoid US debt default

Theoretically, at least, and if only temporarily, Washington's debt and budget crisis appears to have been resolved.

The House of Representatives and the Senate were tipped to vote late on Wednesday Washington time on a bill that conceded none of the legislative humiliation Republicans had been trying to foist on the Obama White House.

Amid sheepish admissions that they had tried the impossible – shutting down government to attack the new Affordable Care Act, which operates under funding mandates that made it one of the few programs that did not shut down – Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate concluded a new bipartisan deal on Wednesday morning.

It remains to be seen if the Senate and the House can process the new bill and have it signed into law by President Barack Obama by Thursday afternoon's formal deadline for the United States to default on its debts, but that was their stated objective.

Despite his earlier refusals to put a Senate-drafted bill to the House, Speaker John Boehner was expected to risk greater ill-will from within his own ranks by doing just that – to head off the threat of economic crisis.

However, this is a short-term fix – the circus that is American governance resumes early next year.


Under Wednesday's agreement, government operations would be funded through to January 15 and Washington's debt ceiling, by which it borrows to fund government operations, would be lifted until February 7.

The only concession, if it can be called that, won by Republican negotiators was wording to ensure greater diligence in checking the bona fides of claimants under Obamacare, as the Republicans disparage the Affordable Care Act.

Tut-tutting that their headstrong Tea Party colleagues, who have driven the shutdown, now in its third week, might have learnt a lesson, the likes of Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, made little effort to conceal his dismay.

“We took some bread crumbs and left an entire meal on the table, he said. “This has been a really bad two weeks for the Republican party.”

Alluding to another round of argy-bargy next year in which he anticipated Republicans would have little or no leverage because of the current debacle, Senator Graham told reporters: “This package is a joke compared to what we could have gotten if we had a more reasonable approach. For the party, this is a moment of self-evaluation. We're going to [have to] assess how we got here.”

Barbs were also directed at Senate colleagues of the Tea Partiers - Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah.

Their North Carolinian colleague Senator Richard Burr rebuked them in condescending terms: “Let's just say sometimes learning what can't be accomplished is an important long-term thing, and hopefully for some of the members, they've learnt it's impossible to defund mandatory programs by shutting down the federal government.”

A seemingly chastened Senator Cruz undertook not to attempt to delay the passage of the legislation through the Senate – on the same day that the Texas newspaper that endorsed his candidacy last year published an editorial saying it wished it hadn't done so.

Speaking for the bill, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell described it as "far less than some had hoped for ... [but it's necessary] for today”. Then, perhaps to make the hardheads feel better about their impotence, he added:

“[The Affordable Care Act] is ravaging our economy, killing jobs, driving up premiums ... its disastrous rollout is a sign of worse things to come.”

Save for the reference to premiums, he might have been talking about the Republican drive to close Washington, especially when he branded the Democrat refusal to cave to Republican demands as a "stubborn ideological obsession".