For now, a last-minute end to twin fiscal crises

AP News
Posted: Oct 18, 2013 4:38 AM
For now, a last-minute end to twin fiscal crises

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government is open for business again.

Congress approved last-minute legislation to end a partial government shutdown and avert a potentially catastrophic U.S. financial default.

But the bill President Barack Obama signed early Thursday only provides a temporary reprieve, keeping the government open through Jan. 15 and extending the government's borrowing authority through Feb. 7. Many major spending and tax issues remain unresolved.

Nevertheless, for the first time in five years, both chambers of Congress have passed a budget resolution. A group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers will now try to reconcile the two separate budgets.

The process toward resolving the standoff was rocky, with many false starts and setbacks.

Some highlights and low points of recent weeks:

Sept. 10: Attention in Washington swings from the crackdown in Syria to budget issues as Obama asks Congress to postpone a vote on U.S. military strikes against Syrian chemical weapons sites and House Republican leaders move to tie legislation to keep the government functioning in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 with less money for Obama's signature health care law. House GOP leaders propose keeping the government afloat through mid-December in exchange for partially dismantling the program many call "Obamacare." The White House and congressional Democrats cry foul.

Sept. 20: The GOP-run House defies a White House veto threat and votes to keep government open through Dec. 15 contingent on a halt in money for the health care program.

Sept. 24-25: Tea party Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other conservatives speak on the Senate floor for more than 21 consecutive hours in support of using legislation to keep the government running as leverage to weaken the health care law.

Sept. 27: The Democratic-led Senate removes the House-approved provision slashing health care law spending. It sends back to the House a bill keeping agencies open through Nov. 15.

Sept. 29: The House votes to delay implementing the health care law for a year and to repeal its tax on medical devices. It also separately votes to pay troops in case of a shutdown. Senators approve the troop bill the next day and Obama signs it.

Sept. 30: Senators reject the House provisions curbing the health care law. The House reworks the bill, delaying for a year the requirement that individuals buy health insurance and requiring members of Congress and staff to pay full expense of health insurance, without government paying part. Senate kills latest House health care provisions.

Oct. 1: As the government's new fiscal year begins, a partial federal shutdown starts. Some 800,000 government workers are furloughed.

Oct. 2: The GOP-run House approves the first of more than a dozen bills restarting popular programs, reopening national parks and National Institutes of Health medical research. The Democratic-controlled Senate ignores the measures. Obama meets with congressional leaders at the White House, with no progress reported.

Oct. 10: House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, proposes a six-week debt ceiling extension, conditioned on Obama bargaining over spending cuts and reopening the government. Congress gives final approval to bill providing death benefits for slain troops, and Obama signs it. Obama meets at the White House with top House Republicans, but no progress is made toward a deal.

Oct. 12: Senate leaders of both parties engage in talks aimed at resolving the twin stalemates. The Senate rejects a Democratic effort to raise the government's borrowing limit through next year, a bill that the White House says "would have taken the threat of default off the table and given our nation's businesses and the economy the certainty we need." Republicans want the extension to be accompanied by spending cuts.

Oct. 13: After inconclusive talks between Obama and House Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., take the lead in trying to end the dual crises. "Americans want Congress to compromise," Reid says at a rare Sunday Senate session.

Oct. 14: Reid and McConnell say they're closing in on an agreement to prevent a national financial default and to reopen the government. But their enthusiasm is short-lived.

Oct 15: House GOP leaders scramble to counter the emerging Reid-McConnell bipartisan Senate deal with their own plan, but the effort falls into disarray amid grumbling by party conservatives. While Republicans appear to back off earlier demands for spending cuts as a condition of raising the government's borrowing cap, the standoff between Democrats and House Republicans continues with little certainty over how things will end.

Oct. 16: Just a day from a threatened Treasury default deadline, Senate leaders announce a new agreement to refresh the government's borrowing authority and reopen the government. Congress races to pass it by day's end. The Dow Jones industrial average soars on the news that the threat of default is fading. "This is a time for reconciliation," Reid says of the bipartisan agreement he forged with McConnell.

Oct. 17: Hours after signing the emergency legislation ending the standoff, Obama decries "yet another self-inflicted crisis" and suggests "the American people are completely fed up with Washington." But to returning federal workers, Obama says: "Welcome back."


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