Missouri, Illinois senators back compromise to end shutdown, House splits
The U.S. senators in Missouri and Illinois — two Democrats and two Republicans — stuck together in favor of the compromise bill, now law, that ended the 16-day government shutdown and increased the federal debt ceiling.
But when it came to the U.S. House, partisan splits remained, made clear by the 284-144 vote. In Missouri’s eight-member delegation, the two Democrats backed the bill and all the Republicans opposed it.
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, exemplified the GOP opposition:
"After weeks of discussions and trying to reach a conclusion to get the government up and running, the bill that was on the House floor today did nothing to address the nation’s out-of-control spending," Luetkemeyer said.
"I came to Washington with a promise that I would rein in spending and after hearing from my constituents who want the same, I could not vote for legislation that does not begin to tackle the debt. We need to have serious discussions regarding entitlement reform and structural changes to the budget so we can begin to make significant headway on the debt."
U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, didn't hide the Democratic anger:
“After two weeks of a senseless Republican government shutdown that deprived the American people of vital services, inflicted real hardship on 800,000 federal employees, and according to Standard & Poor’s, resulted in a net loss of $24 billion to the U.S. economy…extortion has failed," Clay said.
"The House Republican leadership ought to be ashamed of what they allowed to happen. The GOP Tea Party has accomplished nothing, they have cost the taxpayers billions, and they have weakened this country. Extortion is not an acceptable form of government in a great nation. The American people deserve better.”
U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, also voted against the bill but aides said she would wait until Thursday to explain her decision.
Overall, about two-thirds of the House Republicans opposed the measure, reflecting their frustration over their party's failure to succeed in the budget fight to defund, repeal or delay the federal health insurance changes officially known as the Affordable Care Act -- but dubbed by both sides as "Obamacare.''
The GOP exceptions included two Republicans in Illinois, U.S. Reps. John Shimkus of Collinsville and Rodney Davis of Taylor. Both voted in favor of the compromise -- but emphasized in their statements their reluctantance to do so. Both said they still would fight against Obamacare.
Meanwhile, no Democrat in the U.S. House voted against the bill.
Vote risky for Republicans, welcomed by Democrats
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., exemplified the risk felt by many Republicans in both chambers. Although he joined his Democratic colleague, Sen. Claire McCaskill, in supporting the compromise bill, his statement afterward read as if he’d voted against it.
How he voted was evident only by viewing the roll call of the 81-18 Senate vote.
Blunt — who has been publicly critical of House Republicans -- was apparently mindful of his conservative critics. He emphasized that he agrees with them that “the federal government spends too much and borrows too much.”
"Those must be the two main targets after today’s vote and until we get our spending under control,” Blunt continued. "Debate priorities, set priorities, and live within our means; that’s what American families have to do and what our government must do.”
McCaskill, however, had telegraphed hours earlier that she definitely was supporting the compromise bill. She also made clear that she blamed House Republicans for the two-week shutdown caused by their failed quest to block further implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
"I sincerely hope this bipartisan agreement can be a blueprint for future cooperation and compromise,” she said. "As we turn the page, I’m anxious to get back to work on the things that really matter to Missouri families — like expanding job opportunities, fixing our roads, and making college more affordable. But we’re only going to achieve those goals through negotiation, compromise, and moderation.”
The senator also noted that during the shutdown, "nearly 40,000 federal employees in Missouri have been out of work, benefits for Missouri’s veterans have been delayed, vital loans for small businesses have been sidelined, Social Security checks have failed to go out to seniors enrolling in the program for the first time, and parks and offices across the state have been closed.”
Economists said Wednesday that the shutdown, which began Oct. 1, cost the nation $24 billion in lost economic activity.
In Illinois, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and Mark Kirk, a Republican, also voted for the compromise bill.
Said Kirk after the vote:
"Today Congress put country over party. I was proud to be a part of the bipartisan group led by Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Manchin, which laid the foundation for this agreement to reopen our government and protect America's full faith and credit. As the debate moves forward in the coming weeks over spending and debt, it is my hope both parties will continue working together on a 'big deal' with spending cuts and reforms to entitlements and the tax code so that we can give our markets and the American people the stability they need and deserve."
Federal workers wait for government to reopen
Right before the Senate made its decision in Washington, St. Louis area federal workers and their allies gathered for a shutdown protest downtown near the Gateway Arch.
The monument operated by the National Parks Service has been closed since the government shutdown began on Oct. 1.
Steve Hollis, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 5354, said it was his understanding that the final compromise agreement is expected to include retroactive pay for the hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers.
Still, Hollis, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the proposal that will ultimately let federal employees go back to work. "It’s temporary,” Hollis said, referring to the bill’s expiration date.
"Now what we’re facing is another battle over the budget and potentially another shutdown come Jan. 15,” Hollis said.
Erik Castellanos, a furloughed USDA employee, said that federal employees want "to go back to work for our families and also the families of the country.”
"Without us being at our jobs, we can’t help those people requesting insurance claims for disasters or damages done by any sort of storm,” Castellanos said. “They’re sitting there waiting on their money or their information to get done while people in Congress are arguing over things.”
"Go ahead and argue,” he added. "The people you see here, we want to get back to work so that the people of the country back to normal.”
Shortly before midnight, the federal Office of Management and Budget issued a statement saying, "Now that the bill has passed the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, the president plans to sign it tonight and employees should expect to return to work in the morning."