UPDATE (10:45 p.m. EDT): Both houses of Congress voted Wednesday night to approve a bill that will fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the nation’s debt ceiling through Feb. 7.
The Senate passed the measure 81-18. Less than two hours later the House did the same with a 285-144 vote. House Republicans cast all 144 nay votes, breaking 2-to-1 against the bill. All 198 Democrats voted in favor.
It was a similar story in the Senate: Republicans cast all 18 nay votes, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and John Cornyn, (R-Texas)—the Senate Minority Whip.
“Some say we shouldn’t have fought because we couldn’t win,” Lee said on the Senate floor. “But this country wasn’t built on fighting only when victory was certain.”
In addition to opening the government and preventing default, the bill requires the administration to verify eligibility for subsidies in Obamacare and creates a framework for future budget negotiations. It also keeps in place the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, which Democrats had hoped to roll back and replace with tax increases.
Most Republicans said the meager victories weren’t nearly enough. “The Senate and president have chosen to add $1 trillion to our debt for an agreement with no teeth, all the while ignoring our massive debt that threatens our economy and our future,” said Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill.
Conservative groups continued to come out in opposition to the bill, including Heritage Action, the Family Research Council, the Conservative Action Project, and Let Freedom Ring.
President Barack Obama addressed the media between the two votes and pledged to sign the bill immediately. He called on Congress to move forward on immigration reform, a farm bill, and a “sensible budget that is responsible and fair.”
EARLIER STORY: WASHINGTON—Leaders in the U.S. Senate have agreed in principle on a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, paving the way for resolution to the ongoing Washington deadlock as early as tonight.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., negotiated the bipartisan deal that would fund the government through Jan. 15 and increase the nation’s borrowing power through Feb. 7. A Senate vote is expected Wednesday evening, and a House vote likely would follow soon afterward.
“The president applauds Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell for working together to forge a compromise and encourage Congress to act swiftly to end the shutdown and protect the full faith and credit of the United States,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday afternoon.
The arrangement comes after the House failed to put forth its own proposal on Tuesday, prompting Reid and McConnell to re-engage in talks to end the stalemate that has kept part of the government closed since Oct. 1. House leadership wanted to settle for small negotiated gains, but Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, pulled the plan after much of the caucus balked at folding without significant concessions from Democrats.
But the Senate plan doesn’t do much for Republicans either: It requires income verification for healthcare subsidies in Obamacare and a conference committee for the two sides to work on long-term solutions to the nation’s fiscal issues.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he would not attempt to block a vote on the bill, but he denounced the plan as indifferent to the plight of Americans living under the president’s healthcare law.
Grassroots conservatives remain sharply divided on the deadlock: Tea Party Patriots immediately panned the Senate deal as a “complete sellout,” but Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, told me it was an overreach for hard-line conservatives to think they could fully repeal Obamacare without controlling the Senate or the White House.
“The advocates of defund [only] showed up with nothing,” Norquist said. “They didn’t keep their promises to the American people or the conservative movement. Strategy No. 1 crashed and burned and its advocates walked away from it and left everyone else damaged.”
Norquist said Republicans should have focused on preserving the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, which Democrats have targeted in negotiations, and tried to reform Obamacare to blunt its damage—as Democrats have agreed to do seven times.
“At this point the best we can hope for is to kick the can down the road, protect the sequester for three months, and fight again,” he said.
(A Fox News poll conducted this month found a plurality of Americans, 48 percent to 39 percent, believe the sequester is good for the country.)
I asked Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah—Cruz’s chief ally in the Senate—to respond to Norquist’s assessment that the current fight has been a failure: “I disagree,” he said curtly, refusing to explain when I asked him to elaborate.
It’s unclear at this point if the Senate agreement will gain a majority of GOP support in the House—satisfying the so-called Hastert rule—but in lieu of its own plan, the House is expected to take up the Senate bill.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., a senior House Republican, told me he doesn’t think the stalemate has been for nothing, because it has highlighted the problems with the president’s healthcare law.
“The colossal mistakes that were made in enacting Obamacare demand a second and third and fourth look,” Smith said. “I am shocked and dismayed, especially with the catastrophic launch of Obamacare, just how unwilling they are to say, ‘Hey, maybe we could work together to fix this.’”