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Associated Press

US avoids default; shutdown ends today

– Up against a deadline, Congress passed and sent a waiting President Barack Obama legislation late Wednesday night to avoid a threatened national default and end the 16-day partial government shutdown, the culmination of an epic political drama that placed the U.S. economy at risk.

The Senate voted first, a bipartisan 81-18 at midevening. That cleared the way for a final 285-144 vote in the Republican-controlled House about two hours later on the legislation, which hewed strictly to the terms Obama laid down when the twin crises erupted more than three weeks ago.

The legislation would permit the Treasury to borrow normally through Feb. 7 or perhaps a month longer and fund the government through Jan. 15. More than 2 million federal workers would be paid – those who had remained on the job and those who had been furloughed.

After the Senate approved the measure, Obama hailed the vote and said he would sign it immediately after it reached his desk.

"We'll begin reopening our government immediately and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and the American people," he said.

Later, in the House, Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said, "After two long weeks, it is time to end this government shutdown. It's time to take the threat of default off the table. It's time to restore some sanity to this place."

The stock market surged higher at the prospect of an end to the crisis that also had threatened to shake confidence in the U.S. economy overseas

Republicans conceded defeat after a long struggle.

"We fought the good fight. We just didn't win," conceded House Speaker John Boehner as lawmakers lined up to vote on a bill that includes nothing for GOP lawmakers who had demand to eradicate or scale back Obama's signature health care overhaul.

"The compromise we reached will provide our economy with the stability it desperately needs," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, declaring that the nation "came to the brink of disaster" before sealing an agreement.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who negotiated the deal with Reid, emphasized that it preserved a round of spending cuts negotiated two years ago with Obama and Democrats. As a result, he said, "government spending has declined for two years in a row" for the first time since the Korean War.

"And we're not going back on this agreement," he added.

Only a temporary truce, the measure set a time frame of early next winter for the next likely clash between Obama and the Republicans over spending and borrowing.

But for now, government was lurching back to life. In one example, officials met to discuss plans for gearing back up at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where 307 employees remained at work during the partial shutdown and more than 8,000 were furloughed.

After weeks of gridlock, the measure had support from the White House, most if not all Democrats in Congress and many Republicans fearful of the economic impact of a default.

Boehner and the rest of the top GOP leadership told their rank and file in advance they would vote for the measure. In the end, Republicans split 144 against and 87 in favor. All 198 voting Democrats were supporters.

Final passage came in plenty of time to assure Obama's signature before the administration's deadline at 11:59 p.m. tonight. That was when Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the government would reach the current $16.7 trillion debt limit and could no longer borrow to meet its obligations.

Tea party-aligned lawmakers who triggered the shutdown that began Oct. 1 said they would vote against the legislation. Significantly, though, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and others agreed not to use the Senate's cumbersome 18th-century rules to slow the bill's progress.

In remarks on the Senate floor, Cruz said the measure was "a terrible deal" and criticized fellow Republicans for lining up behind it.

McConnell made no mention of the polls showing that the shutdown and flirtation with default have sent Republicans' public approval plummeting and have left the party badly split nationally as well as in his home state of Kentucky.

More broadly, national tea party groups and their allies underscored the internal divide. The Club for Growth urged lawmakers to vote against the congressional measure and said it would factor into the organization's decision when it decides which candidates to support in midterm elections next year.

"There are no significant changes to Obamacare, nothing on the other major entitlements that are racked with trillions in unfunded liabilities, and no meaningful spending cuts either. If this bill passes, Congress will kick the can down the road, yet again," the group said.

Simplicity at the end, there was next to nothing in the agreement beyond authorization for the Treasury to resume borrowing and funding for the government to reopen. Obama had insisted repeatedly he would not pay "ransom" by yielding to Republican demands for significant changes to the health care overhaul in exchange for funding the government and permitting Treasury the borrowing latitude to pay the nation's bills.

House and Senate negotiators are to meet this fall to see if progress is possible on a broad deficit-reduction compromise of the type that has proved elusive in the current era of divided government.

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