Boehner at the US Capitol on Saturday. (AFP)
Washington, Oct. 5 (Reuters): Democrats and Republicans in the US House of Representatives agreed today to retroactively pay 800,000 furloughed federal employees once the government reopens.
However, there was no end in sight to the shutdown that was in its fifth day.
The House of Representatives passed the bill unanimously and it is expected to clear the Senate and be signed by President Barack Obama. It was a rare moment of cooperation in the House as the two parties were entrenched in their positions on the shutdown.
The standoff, which began at the start of the new fiscal year on Tuesday and shuttered all but essential government operations, is the latest in a series of budget fights between Obama and Republicans.
In the past, Republicans have insisted on spending cuts as the price for budget deals or lifting of the government debt limit. Their current stand is aimed at derailing the President’s landmark healthcare reform law to expand insurance to millions without coverage.
Republicans argue that the law is a massive government intrusion into private medicine that will cause insurance premiums to skyrocket, put people out of work and eventually lead to socialised medicine. They have refused to pass a funding bill without attaching measures that would undercut the law, known as Obamacare.
Obama and his fellow Democrats vow that they will make no such concessions on the funding bill or on raising the debt ceiling, which must be done by October 17 to avoid default.
Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press released today that he does not expect to have to take any unusual steps to prevent the US from defaulting on its debt because he believes Congress will raise the debt ceiling.
“I don’t expect to get there,” Obama said. “There were at least some quotes yesterday that Speaker Boehner is willing to make sure that we don’t default,” he said, referring to House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican.
“And I’m pretty willing to bet that there are enough votes in the House of Representatives right now to make sure that the United States doesn’t end up being a deadbeat,” Obama said.
In his radio address today, Obama said the government shutdown was having a “heartbreaking” impact on ordinary Americans, and renewed his call on Republicans in Congress to “stop the farce” and pass a funding bill without conditions.
Republicans are also seeking concessions in exchange for raising the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt limit, which is supposed to be reached on October 17. If the borrowing cap is not increased, the US will go into default, with what officials and economists say would be seriously damaging consequences for the US and global economies.
Boehner tried yesterday to squelch reports that he would ease the way to a debt ceiling increase, stressing that House Republicans would continue to insist on budget cuts as a condition of raising the borrowing authority. Republicans blame the White House for the fiscal deadlock, saying the president is stubbornly refusing to compromise.
“Republicans are eager to end the shutdown and move ahead with the fiscal and economic reforms that our country so urgently needs,” Senator John Cornyn said in the Republican weekly address today. “But we’re never going to make real progress without greater cooperation from our friends across the aisle.”