N.H. senators, congresswomen back bipartisan deal to reopen government, raise debt ceiling
All four members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation welcomed yesterday’s agreement to reopen the federal government, raise the debt ceiling and avoid a potentially disastrous national default.
They expressed frustration, too, over the political strategy that precipitated the 2½ week shutdown and fiscal crisis: the fight by House Republicans and some GOP senators to make defunding or delaying Obamacare a condition of funding the government or raising the borrowing limit.
“I didn’t support the defunding strategy. . . . At this point, it’s proven that this isn’t a strategy that can work,” said Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte in an interview. “And so I hope that people learn their lesson from this.”
The deal that emerged yesterday isn’t a long-term solution; it opens the government through Jan. 15 and raises the debt ceiling through Feb. 7. But lawmakers said they hoped to avert another crisis in early 2014 by negotiating a long-term budget deal before then.
“We can’t let this happen again,” said Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on the Senate floor.
The government partially shut down Oct. 1 because Congress didn’t pass a budget or continuing resolution by the end of the federal fiscal year. Many agencies scaled back operations or closed, though some personnel remained on the job because they were deemed essential. Many federal workers in New Hampshire were furloughed, and there were worries an extended shutdown could endanger funding for social service programs and hurt the state’s recovering housing market.
Over the following weeks, the three New Hampshire Democrats in Congress – Shaheen and U.S. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster – called for a “clean” continuing resolution that would keep the government open without making any major policy changes.
Ayotte supports defunding and repealing President Obama’s 2010 health care reform law. But she and a number of other GOP senators broke with House Republicans and said fighting it didn’t warrant shutting down the government.
The debt ceiling, the legal limit on how much the federal government can borrow to pay its bills, posed an additional problem. The Treasury Department warned it would run out of borrowing power today, potentially leading to a default on the national debt with serious consequences for the U.S. economy.
Negotiations among Senate Democrats and Republicans and House Republicans in recent weeks failed to produce an agreement. But yesterday, Senate leaders announced a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling in the short term and set the stage for fuller budget negotiations later this year.
Shaheen, Ayotte, Shea-Porter and Kuster were all quick to announce support for the agreement.
“I’m glad that we have found common ground on a bipartisan plan to reopen the government and make sure our country pays its bills,” Shaheen said in a statement. “But make no mistake about it – small businesses, jobs and our economy have suffered greatly as a result of a crisis that was manufactured by a small number of individuals over the past 2½ weeks.”
Kuster, too, said there was little to celebrate yesterday.
“While today’s breakthrough is a critical step forward, Congress shouldn’t pat itself on the back for ending a manufactured crisis it created in the first place. The partisan brinksmanship we’ve seen in recent weeks has hurt families and businesses all across New Hampshire. It was entirely avoidable and we cannot let it happen again,” she said in a statement.
Shea-Porter was more explicit about who she blamed for the crisis.
“For two weeks, the tea party faction of the Republican Party has held the American government and economy hostage in a futile attempt to obstruct the Affordable Care Act,” Shea-Porter said in a statement. “This is an unacceptable way to govern.”
Next up: negotiations over a longer-term budget deal.
“This is a short-term solution to get us out of this hole, but it needed to happen. . . . But ultimately, it doesn’t really solve any of the other larger fiscal challenges facing the nation, which is what I do think we need to do,” Ayotte said. “So, there’s a budget conference in December, and obviously I’m hoping we do get a budget for the nation or a longer-term fiscal agreement.”
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)