To head off a default, the package gives the government the authority to borrow what it needs through Feb. 7. Treasury officials will be able to use bookkeeping maneuvers to delay a potential default for several weeks beyond that date, as they have done in the past. Among the maneuvers, officials can suspend contributions to one of the pension plans used by federal retirees.
In the meantime, lawmakers will try to find agreement on how to replace this year’s across-the-board spending cuts with more orderly deficit reduction.
“I hope this is the end of this,” said Vice President Joe Biden, who greeted workers returning to the Environmental Protection Agency with hugs, handshakes and muffins. But Biden acknowledged, “There’s no guarantees of anything.”
The small group of lawmakers tasked with steering Congress out of three years of budget stalemates and standoffs offered no promises.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the group’s goals were “to get this debt under control, to do smart deficit reduction and to do things that we think will grow the economy and get people back to work.”
“We believe there is common ground,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said after their meeting.
The impasse furloughed about 800,000 workers at its peak, before civilian Defense Department employees were called back. It closed down most of NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department and halted work not considered critical at other agencies.
“We’re back from the #shutdown!” the Smithsonian Institution crowed on Twitter, announcing that museums were reopening Thursday. The U.S. Capitol’s visitor center planned to resume tours. “Closed” signs started coming down at national parks and offices across the nation, hours after the deal was sealed in Washington.
Congress agreed to pay federal workers for the missed time. No such luck for contractors and all sorts of other workers whose livelihoods were disrupted.