Obama signs debt bill to end shutdown
The agreement includes income verification for those seeking subsidies under the 2010 healthcare law.
WASHINGTON - The US Congress on Wednesday approved an 11th-hour deal to end a partial government shutdown and pull the world's biggest economy back from the brink of a historic debt default that could have threatened financial calamity.
Capping weeks of political brinkmanship that had unnerved global markets, President Barack Obama quickly signed the spending measure, which passed the Senate and House of Representatives after Republicans dropped efforts to use the legislation to force changes in his signature healthcare law.
The White House budget office told hundreds of thousands of federal workers, the bulk of whom had been idle for the past 16 days, to be ready to return to work on Thursday.
The down-to-the-wire deal, however, offers only a temporary fix and does not resolve the fundamental issues of spending and deficits that divide Republicans and Democrats.
It funds the government until January 15 and raises the debt ceiling until February 7, so Americans face the possibility of another bitter budget fight and another government shutdown early next year.
Taking the podium in the White House briefing room on Wednesday night, Obama said that with final congressional passage, "We can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease from our businesses and from the American people."
"Hopefully next time it won't be in the 11th hour. We've got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis,"
Obama said. He outmanoeuvred Republicans by holding firm in defence of "Obamacare" to win agreement, with few strings attached, to end the 16-day shutdown.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said "the global economy dodged a potential catastrophe" with congressional approval of the deal to raise the $16.7 trillion US debt ceiling.
The standoff between Republicans and the White House over funding the government forced the temporary lay-off of hundreds of thousands of federal workers from October 1 and created concern that crisis-driven politics was the "new normal" in Washington.
Senator John McCain, whose fellow Republicans triggered the crisis with demands that the Democratic president's "Obamacare" healthcare reform law be defunded, said earlier on Wednesday the deal marked the "end of an agonising odyssey" for Americans.
"It is one of the most shameful chapters I have seen in the years I've spent in the Senate," said McCain, who had warned Republicans not to link their demands for Obamacare changes to the debt limit or government spending bill.
In the end, the Democratic-led Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure on a 81-18 vote, and the Republican-controlled House followed suit 285 to 144. Obama signed the 35-page bill just after midnight.
In addition to lifting the federal debt limit, the deal calls for creating a House-Senate bipartisan commission to try to come up with long-term deficit-reduction ideas that would have to be approved by the full Congress. Their work would have to be completed by December 13, but some lawmakers say the panel faces an extremely difficult task.
The political dysfunction has worried US allies and creditors such as China, the biggest foreign holder of US debt, and raised questions about the impact on America's prestige.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced the fiscal agreement on the Senate floor earlier on Wednesday, and its passage was eased when the main Republican critic of the deal, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, said he would not use procedural moves to delay a vote.
The agreement stacked up as a political achievement for Obama, who refused to negotiate on changes to the healthcare law, and a defeat for Republicans, who were driven by Tea Party conservatives in their ranks and suffered a backlash in public opinion polls.
There was no immediate sign that House Speaker John Boehner's leadership position was at risk despite having conceded defeat in the budget battle.
Obama's Democrats avoided claims of victory. "The bottom line is, millions suffered, millions didn't get pay checks, the economy was dragged down," said Senator Charles Schumer. "This is not a happy day, it is a sombre day."
The fight over Obamacare rapidly grew into a brawl over the debt ceiling, threatening a default that global financial organisations warned could throw the US back into recession and cause a global economic disaster.