WASHINGTON — All members of the Arkansas delegation voted with the majority Wednesday night as Congress approved a deal that will reopen the government after a 16-day shutdown and extend the Treasury’s borrowing power to avoid a potentially devastating default.
The Senate voted 81-18 in favor of a bill that would fund the government through Jan. 15 and extend the debt ceiling through Feb. 7. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., voted for it.
The legislation was sent to the House where it was approved, 285-144, with Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, and. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, all voting in favor.
President Obama said he would sign the bill as soon as it landed on his desk so that the government could begin reopening as soon as possible.
The deal announced Wednesday afternoon by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also calls for formal negotiations to begin between the House and Senate on a budget resolution as well as a requirement to verify income for those obtaining federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
After the two leaders announced the deal, Pryor took to the Senate floor to trumpet the efforts of moderate Republicans and Democrats to get a deal done. Pryor was one of 14 senators — led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine — who held a number of meetings in the last few days to end the partisan impasse.
"The structure of what those two leaders have agreed on is very similar to what we proposed to them," Pryor said. "We had seven Republicans, six Democrats and one Independent, and basically what we tried to do was come up with a sensible framework that the leaders could use to get us to where we are today."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was also part of the bipartisan group, said that their efforts could serve as a framework for "the kind of bipartisanship that the American people need and want" from Congress in times of crisis.
"I’m proud to have worked with members of the other side and my side of the aisle," McCain said.
Boozman was not part of the Collins-led group but said there were several other groups negotiating behind closed doors to try to reach agreement.
"I don’t think I heard anybody say they wanted to go over the fiscal cliff with the debt ceiling," he said. "The big thing was trying to get something together that Sen. Reid and Republicans would support."
Boozman said he is supporting the compromise deal out of "real concern" to the damage that a default could do to the economy, particularly the savings and investments held by Arkansans. He also worried that a continued shutdown threatened Social Security payments, veterans benefits and farmers at harvest time.
While the deal essentially just buys a few months time for further budget negotiations, Boozman said having a formal "conference" on the budget could prove fruitful.
"I’d like to see us get significant spending cuts like we got with the Budget Control Act, which was such a success that for the last two years spending has gone down," he said.
In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Pryor said that the Collins’ group met about half a dozen times since Friday and were able to provide leaders with a six-item package that could get bipartisan support.
"The premise was to have something to show leaders," he said. "I quipped at the first meeting that we’re working on Plan B but the problem is there is no Plan A."
The bill cleared the Senate by a substantial margin and then head to the House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, predicted it would also pass.
"I would expect the government to open (Thursday)," Boehner said during an interview Wednesday with a Cincinnati radio station.
Griffin said he would support the legislation because it reopens government and provides some certainty to the economy.
"We did get a guarantee for a budget conference on good terms," he said.
Several conservative groups urged members of Congress to reject the deal. Club for Growth complained that it contains no significant changes to the Affordable Care Act, provides no reforms to entitlements and no meaningful spending cuts.
Heritage Action said the bill would "do nothing to stop Obamacare’s massive new entitlements from taking root."
FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe complained that Republican leadership had "completely lost its way."
"Not only is this proposal a full surrender, it’s a complete surrender with presents for the Democrats," Kibbe said.
National Taxpayers Union, however, encouraged Congress members to support the deal even though it lacks major action on entitlement reform. The bill does maintain spending levels at the $967 billion set forth in the Budget Control Act that demonstrates some willingness to address the debt.
The government shutdown began Oct. 1 after Congress failed to approve funding for the new fiscal year. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the current $16.7 trillion debt limit would be reached on Oct. 17, after which they could no longer borrow to meet government obligations.