The dam is breaking today. The two Senate leaders finalized an agreement this morning to reopen the government until Jan. 15 and avert an imminent debt default by giving the Treasury authority to continue borrowing through Feb. 7.
The deal was to be announced just after noon on the Senate floor, and was then likely to be sped across the Capitol so that the pivotal vote — both procedurally and politically — can happen first in the House. Speaker John A. Boehner signaled that he would put the package to a vote by the end of the day, but a final decision was awaiting the results of a GOP leadership meeting.
Still, some members of that group predicted the measure would pass the House, with the bloc of combative conservatives who are opposed to almost any realistic fiscal policy patch getting overwhelmed by significant numbers of both Republicans and Democrats.
That outcome would return the deal for a final, climactic vote in the Senate, where the rules would permit Sen. Ted Cruz and other hard-line GOP conservatives only one opportunity for a filibuster. That last-ditch effort would surely prove fruitless, given that the deal had been negotiated by both Majority Leader Harry Reid and GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, who would be under significant pressure to follow-up his negotiations with a successful effort to get the Cruz coalition to back down and accept defeat relatively quickly.
If Cruz & Co. don't back down, that would push the final Senate vote past the deadline created by the Treasury, which says that after Wednesday it will have only a relatively small cash reserve of $30 billion available to pay whichever of the nation’s bills come due. The national debt now stands at its legal limit of $16.7 trillion.
The working assumption is that government accountants could figure out a way to hold the creditors at bay for at least a couple of days if it was palpably obvious that legislation to make them whole was inevitable and close at hand. Financial markets were all looking at solid gains this morning as word of the deal spread.
Beyond raising the debt ceiling, the deal would end the partial government shutdown after 16 days and keep money flowing to all federal agencies for two months at the current post-sequester annualized rate of $986 billion — albeit without any additional flexibility for departments and agencies, meaning the across-the-board nature of their spending strictures would continue.
The deal also set Friday, Dec. 13, as a deadline for negotiators to reach a seven-months-behind-schedule agreement on a budget resolution for this year, one that would presumably call for the future legislation Republicans want to limit the growth of Medicare, Social Security and other entitlements — and, if Democrats get their way, some additional deficit reduction from increased taxes. It's unclear what sort of penalty, if any, would result from a failure of those negotiations, or whether any agreement might be guaranteed a vote either by the end of the year or before the twin deadlines that would be looming so early in 2014.
A shutdown precipitated by the GOP drive to undercut Obamacare leaves this: The only related language in the Reid-McConnell deal would be an anodyne requirement that the administration promise it will start verifying the income of people who qualify for federal subsidies for their health insurance under the law.