Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reached a deal Wednesday on a plan to end the 16-day old partial federal government shutdown and to raise the nation's borrowing authority.
With the nation set to go into default Thursday and after efforts in the House of Representatives to deal with the issues collapsed, Reid and McConnell announced a deal which lawmakers should vote on later today.
Under the deal, the government would be funded through Jan. 15 and the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling would be increased until Feb. 7. A bipartisan House-Senate conference committee will be formed to work on larger budget issues, including the automatic domestic and defense cuts known as sequester. The committee will have until mid December to reach an agreement.
The agreement appeared to be a victory for congressional Democrats as it avoided making a serious impact on the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's legacy law which House Republicans were trying to defund or derail.
McConnell said Republicans scored gains with the insistence that sequestration, part of the Budget Control Act, remain in place until lawmakers can figure out a suitable substitute.
"This is far less than many of us had hoped for, frankly," McConnell said. "But it's far better than what some had sought. Now it's time for Republicans to unite behind other crucial goals."
The inclusion of provisions to defund the health care law that was contained in the House's short-term government funding bill contributed to the shutdown.
"The eyes of the world have been in Washington all week," Reid said on the Senate floor. "And while they witnessed a great deal of political discord today they'll see congress reaching historic bipartisan agreement to reopen government and avoid default on the nation's bills."
McConnell reiterated the Republican stance that the health care law is "terrible" but added that Wednesday's focus was "the relief we hope for it to reopen the government, avoid default, and protect the historic cuts we achieved under the Budget Control Act."
At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Obama would sign the bill and he called on both chambers to pass it "as soon as possible." Carney said the bipartisan agreement would end what he called the "wholly unnecessary" shutdown and "remove the threat of economic brinksmanship" that he said had already hurt the U.S.'s economic standing in the world.
Obama, he said, "looks forward to Congress acting so that he can sign legislation that will reopen the government and remove this threat from our economy."
One of the provisions requires verification for recipients of subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, but Carney rejected suggestions that the White House -- which had insisted it wouldn't negotiate over changes to the health care law under the threat of a shutdown or default -- had paid a "ransom" for the deal.
Though the White House just last month had threatened to veto legislation requiring verification, Carney called the provision in the bipartisan deal a "modest adjustment" to the health care law.
"We have always said we are willing to make improvements and adjustments to the law," he said. "Ransom would be a wholly different thing... We're fine with it."
The deal was immediately slammed by some tea party groups and the Club for Growth sent out an alert, urging House and Senate members to vote "NO" on the plan, warning it would be included in the club's 2013 Congressional scorecard.
The group says the plan "appears to have little to no reforms in it. There are no significant changes to ObamaCare, nothing on the other major entitlements that are racked with trillions in unfunded liabilities, and no meaningful spending cuts either. If this bill passes, Congress will kick the can down the road, yet again."
Added Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots: "The Senate deal is a complete sellout. The House 'Leadership' must stop playing 'flinch' with themselves, and instead, play hardball with the White House, the Senate, and the House. Otherwise, hard-working Americans are going to bear the burden of this unaffordable law."