Most Pa. lawmakers in Congress support deal to end federal shutdown
Brian Przybyla's opinion of Congress fell so far during the federal shutdown, he's even suspicious of its motives for getting back to work.
“They're just doing it so they can go on vacation,” said Przybyla, 56, of Pleasant Unity in Westmoreland County.
Congress was supposed to be in recess this week but stayed because of the funding impasse.
After 16 days, potentially billions of dollars in lost economic activity and a string of unfavorable polls, the government shutdown came to an anticlimactic close on Wednesday night with most Pennsylvania lawmakers supporting a Senate compromise to reopen federal agencies and avert a default.
The agreement funds government though Jan. 15 at pre-shutdown levels, expands the country's borrowing limit enough to last through Feb. 7 and forms a joint House-Senate committee to negotiate a federal budget by mid-December.
The shutdown began over Republican demands to defund the Affordable Care Act, a gambit that Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, called “ineffective.”
“We knew that all along,” Murphy said.
Repealing the law remains a GOP goal, but it won't happen with a Democratic president and Senate, Murphy said, echoing comments Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made on the Senate floor.
“We have to get back to the business that Congress is supposed to be doing: governing,” Murphy said.
The joint budget committee, headed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., will be the first major test of whether this shutdown put enough pressure on lawmakers to get something done. It is charged with negotiating a compromise between the Senate's $1.058 trillion budget and the House's $988 billion spending plan.
“Hopefully, we can meet in the middle. We have infrastructure that's not going to fix itself, and it's not going to get cheaper the longer we don't fix it,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills. “It's going to be very difficult. We're far apart on some things. But that's a better debate to be having.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, received a standing ovation when he walked into a 3 p.m. caucus meeting on Wednesday, a day after failing to rally that same caucus around his proposal to end the shutdown.
“I think he fought the good fight. We tried to defund (the Affordable Care Act). We tried to delay,” said Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler. “It really is time right now to move on. We have to get this economy up and running.”
The impasse prompted Fitch Ratings to threaten to downgrade the country's credit rating, and economists said the uncertainty it produced shaved billions of dollars off the economy.
“The reason why the economy isn't accelerating ... is largely a result of the uncertainty of what's going on in Washington,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics.
Zandi's chief concern was the country's borrowing limit, which it would have reached Thursday without the compromise. Breaching the debt limit could have sparked a second Great Recession, he said.
“We shouldn't even be debating whether or not we're going to pay our bills — every bill — on time,” said Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton.
The economic effects will be worse if Congress ends up at the same impasse when federal funding runs out again on Jan. 15, Zandi said.
“If we're back at this in a few months or early next year, at that point I think the damage will become increasingly more significant,” Zandi said.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, voted against increasing the debt burden, saying, “I cannot support piling hundreds of billions of dollars of debt on current and future generations of Americans without even a sliver of reform to start putting our fiscal house in order.”
After Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and McConnell announced the deal on the Senate floor, several senators celebrated the accord with self-congratulatory speeches.
“This is truly a time when America rose to show its best,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
The 16-day impasse sent public approval of Washington — and of the GOP in particular — plummeting.
Just 18 percent of voters told Gallup pollsters that they were satisfied with the way the country is being governed. Forty-three percent had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, and 28 percent — a record low — had a favorable view of the Republican Party, according to Gallup results released on Oct. 9.
Kelly accused Democrats of allowing the impasse because they wanted to distract from the Affordable Care Act's glitch-plagued rollout.
“We did everything we could to take care of a major problem,” Kelly said. The health care law “is a disaster, and it's getting worse every day.”
Other Republicans criticized their colleagues, most prominently Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, for beginning a fight they didn't know how to end.
“It's one of the more shameful chapters that I have seen in the years that I have spent here in the Senate,” Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and former GOP presidential nominee, said on the Senate floor.
And voters such as Przybyla don't envision Congress washing off the stink after it returns.
“I think it's going to be just as nasty a disagreement between them then as it is now,” said Przybyla, a former Democrat who is no longer affiliated with either party. “When they come back, it's going to be the same-old, same-old.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Mike Wereschagin and Aaron Aupperlee are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Wereschagin can be reached at 412-320-7900 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Aupperlee can be reached at 412-320-7986 or email@example.com.