Mont. lawmakers back deal to avert crisis

Great Falls Tribune

by Malia Rulon Herman

Decision avoids default on debt

WASHINGTON – The entire Montana congressional delegation joined with their colleagues Wednesday night to pass a bill that would avert a default and reopen the government, ending a partial 16day government shutdown.

Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, Democrats, called the bill, which passed the Senate on a bipartisan 81-18 vote and later cleared the House 285-144, long overdue. Republican Rep. Steve Daines called it a “missed opportunity.”

“This shutdown never should have happened,” Baucus said. “Fighting in Washington is worse than I’ve ever seen it, and folks at home are getting hurt. Enough is enough.”

Baucus, who plans to retire at the end of next year after 36 years in Congress, said he was eager to see the bill signed into law so national parks can reopen, 12,000 Montana federal employees can get back to work and Congress can focus on things that create jobs, like the farm bill. Tester agreed.

“I’m relieved that common sense has finally prevailed and we are able to reopen the federal government and pay our nation’s bills,” he said. “I hope that in the future we can continue to have serious conversations about our nation’s debt and deficit without a minority of members of Congress holding our nation and the economy hostage.”

Daines also praised the deal but warned that it’s not a solution to the country’s longterm fiscal problems.

“The government needs to reopen, and we can’t risk default on our obligations. But I am deeply frustrated that this vote virtually guarantees that in just a few short months, we’ll be back at square one, facing another debt ceiling crisis,” he said. “This was a missed opportunity to address our nation’s debt crisis and engage in a much-needed conversation about long-term reforms and real solutions that deal with our spending and balance the budget.”

The deal would fund the government through Jan. 15 but at lower levels than Democrats wanted, suspend the debt ceiling until Feb. 7 and establish a framework for formal budget negotiations to begin.

Baucus, who as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee had led efforts to raise the debt limit, said the country can’t keep lurching from one deadline to another.

“Working families and small businesses can’t afford to go through this same fight all over again in a couple months,” he said.

Under the deal, House and Senate negotiators would be required to make recommendations for longer-term spending and deficit reduction by Dec. 13. As chairman of Senate Finance, it’s likely that Baucus would be named to the panel.

The package will also provide back pay to the 800,000 federal workers affected by the shutdown and keep in place a pay freeze for members of Congress through the upcoming budget year. It does not include any significant revisions to the Affordable Care Act, which House Republicans had pushed for.