Congress Wednesday night extended the nation's debt limit and ended a partial shutdown of the federal government that began more than two weeks ago. The final vote in the Senate was a lopsided 81-18 on a measure that yielded virtually nothing to House Republicans who had used the shutdown in a futile effort to undo the Affordable Care Act and to attack Social Security. A few hours later, the House voted 285 to 144 for the measure to finance the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit through Feb. 7. Sen. Bernie Sanders welcomed the end of the "nightmare." A new round of budget negotiations begins Thursday. Sanders, an independent who sits on the Senate Budget Committee, is among a group that Senate and House leaders appointed late last night to try to reconcile separate budget documents passed by each chamber earlier this year.
"I have heard from people in Vermont and throughout the country including veterans worried about their disability benefits and Social Security recipients concerned about how they would survive," Sanders said. "I have heard from dedicated federal employees working without pay. It is clear to me that this nightmare must end, that the government must reopen and that the United States must pay its bills."
Sanders warned, however, that the short-term agreement to fund the government at $988 billion through Jan. 15 will have serious ramifications. "According to the Congressional Budget Office, this sequestration-level budget will result in job losses for hundreds of thousands of American workers. Continuing the across-the-board cuts also will cause very serious pain for working families and some of the most vulnerable people in our country, including the elderly, children, the sick and the poor," he said.
Sanders also said that a new round of House and Senate budget negotiations that are called for by the agreement must not focus on even more harmful spending cuts. "At a time when the middle class in America is disappearing and wealth and income inequality is greater than at any time since the Roaring "20s, we must not balance the budget on the backs of the weak and the vulnerable," Sanders said. "At a time when corporate America is enjoying record-breaking profits, serious budget negotiations must end the absurdity of one out of four major corporations paying nothing in federal income taxes."
While it is important to continue to focus on deficit reduction, Sanders said it is important for Congress to pursue priorities that create millions of good paying jobs, raise the minimum wage, and protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from being cut.