By Joyce Jones
After a 16-day stalemate that furloughed hundreds of thousands of federal employees and cost the nation $24 billion, both chambers of Congress passed legislation late Wednesday to reopen the government and lift the debt ceiling. The move came just in time to prevent a default on the nation's debt that could have caused an economic crisis with global consequences.
The proposal, crafted by Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, funds the government through Jan. 15 and raises the debt limit through Feb. 7. It also enabled furloughed employees to immediately return to work.
"There are no winners here. These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy. We don't know yet the full scope of the damage, but every analyst out there believes it's slowed our growth," President Obama said in remarks delivered Thursday morning.
He listed some of the trickle-down effects of the shutdown, including lost family and business income and a slowdown in hiring.
The end of the shutdown, during which Republicans lost more than they gained, is widely viewed as a major defeat for Republicans. They initiated the shutdown by refusing to pass a continuing budget resolution to keep the government ticking unless funding for the Affordable Care Act was stripped. But as their disapproval numbers reached historic lows and the public began to place a majority of the blame for the shutdown on GOP lawmakers, it became clear this week that it was time to wave the white flag.
"We all kind of lost, including federal employees, who were furloughed and all of the people who rely on federal services," Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison told BET.com. "I hope the pain of this event convinces Republicans that this is nothing they should try again anytime soon."
The vote showed that many are still unconvinced that ending the shutdown was the right thing to do: 144 members in the House and 18 in the Senate voted against the bill, including South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who is Black.
"I'm very glad that we've brought this sad chapter of our democracy to a close," Rep. Karen Bass (D-California) said in an interview with BET.com after the vote. "I think it's a real tragedy that we put federal workers and so many other people through so much stress over these last few weeks that at the end of the day was completely unnecessary."
Bass said that she hopes lawmakers will "do some serious soul searching over the next few weeks and months" but worries that Republicans are so fiercely opposed to the health care law "that three months from now we may be in the same place."
In past budget battles, the president has been much more conciliatory, sometimes to the dismay of his own party. But this time around, in addition to not making concessions to reopen the government, he more than once declared his refusal to haggle with Republicans over paying the nation's economic obligations, which caught them by surprise.
"There were a lot of Democrats who were surprised by how firmly he stood on this and the fact that we all stood together," Rep. James Clyburn, the third-most powerful Democrat in the House, told BET.com. "Every single Democrat voted for [the bill] tonight, which says once again to the American people that Democrats are united in support of keeping people at work, paying our bills and finding a way to a budget resolution."
In his remarks, the president noted that the shutdown gave Americans "a chance to get some idea of all the things large and small that government does that make a difference in people's lives."
He chided those who treat government like an enemy or purposely make it work worse because of ideological differences, and issued a challenge.
"You don't like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election," he said. "Push to change it. But don't break it."