US shutdown showdown is over

Washington, Oct 17 (IANS) Federal employees headed back to work, and national parks and museums began to reopen Thursday after the US Congress voted to end a 16-day budget standoff, handing President Barack Obama a major victory.

Obama swiftly signed a bill funding the government through Jan 15 and raising the nation's $16.7-trillion debt limit through Feb 7 well past midnight after Republicans threw in the towel in their fight to derail the president's signature healthcare law.

The deal, aimed at averting a financial default with the US set to run out of cash to pay its bill Thursday, also sets a mid-December deadline for completing budget negotiations between the House and the Senate for a long-term spending plan.

The eleventh hour deal with only minor concessions from Democrats hammered out earlier by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell received broad bipartisan support in both chambers.

Also included in the deal is a provision that strengthens verification measures for people getting subsidies under Obamacare, the only concession that the Republicans were able to wrest from the Democrats.

The vote was 81-18 in the Democratic-led Senate with only 18 of the 45 Republicans opposing it and 285-144 in the Republican-controlled House. As many as 87 Republicans joined all 198 Democrats in supporting the measure.

Several of the Senate's most conservative Republican members led by Senator Ted Cruz, who had spearheaded the fight against Obamacare, voted against the bill.

"This is a terrible deal," said Cruz on the Senate floor before the vote, though he acknowledged that it would pass. "This deal embodies everything about the Washington establishment that frustrates the American people."

Shortly after the Senate vote Wednesday night, Obama said once the House passes the deal, "I will sign it immediately. We'll begin reopening our government immediately."

"We can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and from the American people," he said.

"There's a lot of work ahead of us, including our need to earn back the trust of the American people that's been lost over the last few weeks," he said. "And we can begin to do that by addressing the real issues that they care about."

As he was leaving the room, Obama was asked, due to the temporary nature of the agreement, if he thought "isn't this going to happen all over again in a few months?"

"No," he responded.

Later, White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Sylvia Mathews Burwell issued a statement at about 12.45 a.m. saying Obama has signed the bill and the OMB would "work closely with Departments and Agencies to make the transition back to full operating status as smooth as possible".

Democrat Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Patty Murray and House Republican Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan plan to have a breakfast meeting Thursday to start the ball rolling on budget negotiations.

The deal also gives the Treasury Department the ability to borrow beyond the debt ceiling.

"Because of today's efforts, we will continue to honour all of our commitments - a core American value - and preserve the full faith and credit of the United States," Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement Wednesday night.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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