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State lawmakers embrace deal

WASHINGTON — Connecticut lawmakers have embraced an 11th hour deal to raise the debt limit and reopen the federal government. The agreement won approval in the Senate in an 81-18 vote and headed to the House late Wednesday.

After a final bill is sent to President Barack Obama, who said he will sign it, the government would reopen today and stay open until Jan. 15, and the debt limit would be raised until Feb. 7, pushing aside any danger of default for now.

The deal is seen as a defeat for conservative Republicans who insisted in a rollback of the Affordable Care Act in any bill that would fund the federal government or lift the debt limit.

Instead, the only thing the agreement would do to the law is require better income verification for people who receive federal subsidies to purchase health insurance.

But Connecticut Democrats refrained from celebrations, preferring to cast the fiscal crisis that paralyzed Washington for nearly three weeks as a sobering experience.

“We have to avoid recriminations as we seek common ground,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who voted for the bill. “The House Republican leadership clearly lost, but there is no winner here.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said, “Nobody should be doing an end zone dance.”

But he could not resist a partisan dig.

“After three weeks of shutdown, the Republican tea party has gotten nothing out of this deal, zilch, nada,” Murphy said.

The bill would provide retroactive pay to federal workers, who have been furloughed or worked without pay, and fund programs that have run out of money, like Head Start. Some states, including Connecticut, who have picked up the tab for these programs during the shutdown, are likely to get reimbursed by the appropriate federal agencies.

The White House echoed the conciliatory theme adopted by congressional Democrats.

“There are no winners here,” press secretary Jay Carney said at his daily briefing Wednesday. “We said that from the beginning, and we’re going to say it right up to the end because it’s true. The American people have paid a price for this.”

The Senate is expected to vote on the deal late Wednesday afternoon or early evening. The bill will then go to the House, potentially offering a resolution to the long-running saga by late Wednesday.

In both the House and Senate, the agreement is expected to win approval largely through Democratic votes.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, whose knowledge of financial issues has made him a favorite of CNN and other news networks during the crisis, said he is glad the compromise will prod Republican and Democrats to work together on a final budget bill. The Republican-led House and the Democratic-majority Senate both approved bills that would fund the federal government in fiscal year 2014, which began Oct. 1.

But the bills were widely different — the Senate bill did not contain across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester — but the House bill did, and would cut some programs even deeper. House Republicans have avoided negotiating with Senate Democrats on a final bill.

Then attempts to pass a short-term funding bill to prevent a government shutdown failed because the Senate rejected House bills that would have defunded or rolled back Obamacare.

“This pushes the GOP to (a budget) conference,” Himes said. ”It’s hard not to like this deal.”

The only member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation who may not vote for the agreement is Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District. That’s because the agreement — which would fund the federal government at current spending levels — contains the sequester cuts. DeLauro has never voted for a bill with sequester cuts, saying social programs bear the brunt of those cuts.

DeLauro’s office did not return calls and emails requesting comment.

Fifth District Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty said she plans to vote “yes.” “We need to end the shutdown and get people back to work,” she said.

Meeting with reporters after House Democrats held a closed meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss the deal, Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, said the shutdown and scare over the debt ceiling resulted in a “solemn moment for Congress.”

“We need to get home and listen to our constituents,” the veteran lawmaker said.

Polls showed that public support of Congress plummeted during the crisis, with the GOP taking a greater hit.

An earlier bipartisan deal shaping up in the Senate would have postponed for two years the so-called “belly-button tax” that big business and labor unions were scheduled to pay beginning next year to cover workers with health insurance.

The money collected from that tax, some $25 billion over three years, would go to a reinsurance fund to help health insurance companies manage the additional risk produced by the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that they cover sick people.

But the provision, pushed by Democrats on behalf of labor, was dropped from the final deal.

The sequence of events after the Senate’s vote was expected to be:

n The House will consider the bill in the Rules Committee and schedule time for debate.

n The House will vote on the agreement late Wednesday or early Thursday morning, probably with Democrats pushing it over the finish line.

n The bill will be sent to Obama for his signature.

This story originally appeared at CTMirror .org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror, an independent, nonprofit news organization covering government, politics and public policy in the state.



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