Spirits were high when Senate leaders unveiled a bipartisan deal Wednesday afternoon that reopens the federal government and raises the debt ceiling, but the reaction from Vermont’s congressional delegation was more tempered.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch all plan to vote for the deal, which funds the government through Jan. 15 and rolls back the debt-ceiling deadline to Feb. 7.
But they also expressed concerns about the residual impact of the shutdown, and they alluded to the high stakes of a budget battle again being pushed down the road.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has agreed to bring the bill to a vote in the House, and it’s expected to pass both chambers with Democratic and Republican votes before midnight Thursday, which marks the debt ceiling deadline.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., led off the floor discussion Wednesday by commending his Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and declaring that “this is a time of reconciliation” rather than “finger pointing.”
A number of senators — some of them beaming — followed suit, taking to the floor to tout the bipartisan effort that laid the groundwork for the agreement.
Sanders, I-Vt., struck a different tone on the floor, pointing to “irreparable” damage that’s come from the shutdown, and placing blame with a “handful of rightwing extremists.” The deal, Sanders said, doesn’t undo damage done to the country’s international reputation, and it doesn’t erase “a whole lot of anxiety and pain to tens and tens of millions of Americans.”
The Senate deal also sets up a conference committee with House and Senate members to pass a more permanent budget, and Sanders said he has reservations about what will happen during those negotiations. He criticized Republican proposals to scale back major entitle programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Sanders also reiterated his displeasure with the current budget, in place until Jan. 15, which includes sequestration cuts left over from the fiscal standoff of 2011.
“The sequestration budget we are voting on today moves us in exactly the wrong direction,” Sanders said, warning that the cuts already in place are costing the country hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Welch, too, pointed to “significant differences” and “very contentious issues” that remain between Democratic and Republican budget priorities. “Trying to bridge the gap is going to be an uphill battle for both of us.”
Welch, D-Vt., said the standoff, in addition to “harming innocent people,” has eroded the public’s confidence in Congress. But he doesn’t think the barbs exchanged between Democrats and Republicans will significantly impede the progress of budget negotiations.
“The members have got to get over it,” Welch said. “In the world we are in, there are contentious battles. My counsel to all of our colleagues and to myself is to get over it and get the job done.”
In a Huffington Post interview, Welch sidestepped questions about whether Democrats have gained political capital during the standoff.
“I suppose the political analysts like you can say that, and there’s some truth in that if you read the polls, but the bottom line is it’s really bad for this country,” Welch said. “There’s no way that any of us can take any satisfaction from this spectacle.”
But Welch also pointed to one positive outcome — he said he’s confident that the fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act is over, and the end result of the shutdown will discourage lawmakers from using a government shutdown and the threat of default as bargaining strategies.
“Anyone who is proposing to use those tactics in the future does so at their own peril,” he said. “It’s not that people won’t want to do it, but they have been chastened by trying to do it.”
Leahy, in a statement, said the deal is proof that “both parties can come together for the good of the country.” But he also made it clear that the blame for any permanent damage from the shutdown still belongs at the doorstep of Tea Party Republicans.
“As the ripples of the Tea Party shutdown have cascaded through every community and across the nation, they have hurt families, workers and businesses everywhere,” Leahy said.
President Barack Obama has said that, post-budget crisis, he plans to push the House to pass immigration reform.
Leahy’s spokesperson, David Carle, said the senator “continues to press the need for meaningful comprehensive reform” and has been speaking frequently with House members, including Boehner and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia and chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
The mess in Washington also prevented Leahy from flying home Wednesday to attend the Vermont Chamber of Commerce dinner honoring him as its annual “Citizen of the Year.” Leahy will make his remarks via a statement recorded earlier, Carle said.
Gov. Peter Shumlin issued a statement welcoming the news, and chiding Washington Republicans.
“The good news out of Washington today is that Republican lawmakers finally appear ready to end this spectacle of a shutdown and remove the threat of an immediate debt crisis,” Shumlin said.
“Going forward, hopefully Washington will take a lesson from Vermont, where we debate issues vigorously but ultimately share a commitment to putting our collective interests ahead of our personal ideologies.”