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Obama signs bill ending partial shutdown, raising debt ceiling

 

President Obama and his congressional allies succeeded overnight in winning a virtually condition-free increase in the debt ceiling, along with funding to end the partial government shutdown -- but in a deal that left America's debt crisis unaddressed and teed up another battle three months from now. 

The president signed the short-term bill early Thursday morning. With his signature, furloughed federal employees will return to work for the first time since Sept. 30. The White House directed all federal agencies to promptly restore staffing to normal levels. 

The bill cleared the House late Wednesday on a 285-144 vote, lifted over the finish line by a large chunk of Democrats. All House Democrats voted in favor of the bill and 87 Republicans did as well; 144 Republicans voted against it. The Senate, where the plan originated, earlier voted 81-18 for the bill. 

While the result comes as a relief to furloughed federal workers, it leaves unfinished any long-term agreement over the nation's fiscal future. And despite Republicans' grand goals of unraveling ObamaCare with this legislation, the health law was barely touched. GOP leaders vowed to fight that fight another day. 

As with past 11th-hour deals, this one kicks off the tough decisions to a separate committee and sets up another set of deadlines.

Lawmakers could again be at loggerheads by mid-January.

After weeks of wrangling on the Hill, though, the bill passed Wednesday after House Republican leaders backed down on their demands that the legislation rein in ObamaCare. 

To the dismay of many conservatives, the final product does not include any major provisions pertaining to the health care law. But, with the House a day earlier unable to muster support for an alternative GOP plan, House leaders agreed to go along with the bipartisan Senate bill.  

President Obama, speaking between the two sets of votes, said he would sign the bill “immediately” and “immediately” begin reopening parts of the government that were closed.

He called on both sides of the aisle to work together in the future on a range of issues, including stalled immigration legislation. “We’ve got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis,” he said. 

The bill puts an end, for now, to the historic showdown that has kept the government partly shuttered for more than two weeks. Putting additional pressure on lawmakers to reach an agreement, Congress was facing a Thursday deadline to raise the debt ceiling. 

"We fought the good fight. We just didn't win," House Speaker John Boehner said in an interview with Cincinnati radio station WLW-AM ahead of the vote.

The final bill will fund the government through Jan. 15, and raise the debt cap through Feb. 7. Plus it provides back-pay for furloughed workers. 

The plan does not include any provision relating to the ObamaCare medical device tax or other unpopular parts of the law, as prior plans did; instead it would include a single provision meant to verify the income of those receiving ObamaCare subsidies. It would also instruct a bipartisan budget committee to report back on a broader plan by mid-December. 

Lawmakers on both sides acknowledged the deal was far from perfect, and once again pushes off difficult and long-term decisions about the country's fiscal health for another day. 

"This deal is yet another promise to work on the problem tomorrow," Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said in a statement. 

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who helped draft the bill, told Fox News he's "ashamed" at how Washington has acted, but also held out hope that lawmakers can "work it out" and strike a broader agreement. 

The bill tees up another confrontation weeks down the road if the two sides are unable to do that. But, for the near-term, it would lift the partial shutdown that began on Oct. 1 and remove the threat of missing the debt-ceiling deadline on Thursday. 

Obama, perhaps emboldened, fired off a simple “no” when asked in the White House briefing room whether this would all play out again in a few months.

In the end, Obama mostly got what he wanted out of the package, with a relatively clean funding bill and debt-cap increase, albeit a shorter-term one than Democrats wanted.

Boehner found himself in a difficult spot by Wednesday morning. The big question had been whether he would allow the Senate bill to come to the floor – knowing he’d need to rely on many Democrats to pass it. Boehner could have tried to put forward a new proposal, which would easily put the government past Thursday's deadline to raise the debt ceiling. 

But Boehner ended the speculation when he said in the radio interview he’d “absolutely” give the bill a vote, while encouraging Republicans to support it.

Despite pressure to oppose the bill from groups like the Club for Growth, some moderate-leaning Republicans joined with Democrats to pass the final product.

Whether Boehner will experience internal blowback for his decision to bring the bill to the floor is unclear. Letting a bill pass on the backs of votes from the minority party would violate what is loosely known as the "Hastert Rule" -- named after former Speaker Dennis Hastert, and referring to the principle that the party in control of the House should make sure that party is mostly on board with any bill coming to the floor. 

But one senior House Republican said it's "highly unlikely" that a new leader would emerge to challenge Boehner "that can raise money, message" and corral the warring factions of the party. 

Since initially demanding that ObamaCare be defunded as part of any budget deal, Republican leaders scaled back those demands considerably. The boldest provision in the most recent House bill would have forced top government officials and lawmakers onto ObamaCare, without subsidies. 

But that was still too heavy-handed for Democrats, and too weak for conservatives. The final version only addressed income verification for subsidies. 

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, among the lawmakers who fought for defunding ObamaCare, called the final product “terrible.”

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.