On the brink of a debt default and after more than two weeks of a federalgovernment shutdown, Congress finally approved a plan Wednesday evening to temporarily end both crises and restore some measure of normalcy to Washington.
The eleventh-hour deal was brokered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. It will fund the government through Jan. 15 and lift the debt ceiling through Feb. 7. It also officially reopened the government, allowing federal employees to head back to work Thursday.
“This compromise we reached will provide our economy with the stability it desperately needs,” Reid said on the floor earlier Wednesday when he announced an agreement had been reached. After the bill passed the Senate, he said to his colleagues, “let’s move on” - suggesting immigration as the next issue to tackle.
Part of the legislation directed congressional leaders to appoint negotiators for a longer-term budget agreement. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Sessions, R-Ala., are expected to meet Thursday morning with House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and ranking member Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., to begin negotiating a deficit reduction compromise.
“We can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and from the American people,” President Obama said Wednesday night.
“One of the things that I said throughout this process is we’ve got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis,” he continued. “And my hope and expectation is everybody has learned that there is no reason why we can’t work on the issues at hand, why we can’t disagree between the parties while still being agreeable, and make sure that we’re not inflicting harm on the American people when we do have disagreements.”
But the bitter partisanship that divides Congress was not resolved among either members of Congress or the American people. In interviews over the past week, several people who were part of the 1995-96 government shutdown and other experts reiterated one theme over and over to CBSNews.com: one of the biggest consequences of governing by crisis as Congress has done in recent years is a loss of public trust.
Asked about the long-term political implications of this crisis, Mike McCurry, President Bill Clinton’s former press secretary said, “People are just pretty despairing about the condition of our system. Is it working? Why can’t these folks get together and work out their problems? And that has been in the increasing sense—that our political system is dysfunctional and broken so it’s adding to the real sense in the country that something’s not right with the way in which we do business in Washington, D.C.”
Over the long term, “voters eventually start getting really angry at representatives and they wonder why are representatives still getting paid when there’s a government shutdown,” said John Feehery, who served as communications director for House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, from 1995 to 1998.
“I am worried that if people lose trust in their government, if they lose faith in their government, that we never are going to be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. When the voters decide they have had enough, hopefully what they will do is try to vote in some new members. Hopefully they won’t lose complete faith in the system,” Feehery said. But it’s certainly a possibility. “You could have even greater dissatisfaction. People just drop out entirely, and you really need to have an engaged public to pay attention to what’s happening in politics and participate.”
When the vast majority of the public decides not to participate, Feehery said, that gives a greater voice to the most extreme views - which only drags out conflict.
Congress’ approval rating has taken a toll throughout the course of the shutdown. Disapproval of both Democrats and Republicans has risen since the beginning of October, and Congress saw an eight-point drop - from 19 percent to 11 percent - from the beginning of September to the beginning of October, according to a Gallup tracking poll.
The polarization in Congress stems from a deep polarization in American society, and Republican leaders indicated they have no intention of dropping their quest to repeal Obamacare or allowing spending cuts mandated by the sequester to be undone. That means the partisan fights are likely to continue far into the future.
George Washington University political science professor John Sides said, “I think its going to be hard to recreate a spirit of trust and compromise that’s going to allow members of Congress and the president to avoid similar kinds of brinkmanship and breakdowns and shutdowns of all of the things that have arguably not just made more people even more cynical about politics, but caused some real damage to our economy and made markets pretty uncertain that our political leaders known what they’re doing or can do what they need to do.”