Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Congress Fully Approves Debt Ceiling Bill

By FOXBusiness

The House of Representatives, in a vote of 285 to 144, passed a bill to re-open the partially shutdown government and raise the debt ceiling, staving off a potential default after Thursday.

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The deal, which passed in the Senate earlier in the night in a vote of 81 to 18, includes a continuing resolution to fund the government through Jan. 15, increase the nation’s borrowing limit through Feb. 7, continue to provide the Treasury Department with the ability to enact “extraordinary measures,” to pay America’s bills during future Congressional debt ceiling debates, and a provision for income verification for people who receive subsidies on the Affordable Care Act’s medical insurance exchanges.

The bill also includes instructions to assemble a bipartisan committee to gather and report by mid-December a way forward on the nation’s fiscal issues to avoid similar situations like the one lasting the last few weeks, in the future.

With the a blessing from both chambers of Congress, the bill now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk for a signature of final approval. The president vowed earlier in the night to sign the legislation “immediately.”

In a press conference following the Senate votes, and ahead of the House vote series, Obama addressed the nation, thanking Congress for finding common ground and avoiding a catastrophic debt default that was looking increasingly likely over the last few weeks.

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"Once this agreement arrives on my desk, I will sign it immediately," he said "We'll begin reopening our government immediately, and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease from our businesses and from the American people."

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew issued a statement saying he welcomed Congressional bipartisan action to avoid this fiscal crisis.

“Because of today’s efforts, we will continue to honor all of our commitments – a core American value – and preserve the full faith and credit of the United States," he said.

Though the House, in the end, approved of the effort to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, earlier in the day, House Speaker John Boehner pledged to continue work to stop “the train wreck that is the president’s health care law.”

And though he, nor much of the Republican majority necessarily agreed with the lack of spending cuts, Boehner said blocking previous efforts to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote would have been irresponsible.

“In addition to the risk of default, doing so would open the door for the Democratic majority in Washington to raise taxes again on the American people and undo the spending caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act without replacing them with better spending cuts,” he said in a statement.

Lew also recognized the need for spending and budget reforms, and pledged to support negotiation efforts now that the debt ceiling is no longer an immediate and direct threat to the nation’s full faith and credit.

“We stand ready to find that common ground with both Republicans and Democrats so we can sustain the recovery the American people have so painstakingly fought for and ensure we remain the most powerful economy in the world for generations to come," he said.

Wall Street was Right

U.S. stock-index futures were little changed in early trade following a vigorous rally on Wall Street Wednesday that lifted the broad S&P 500 within 0.23% of its all-time closing high notched in September and the tech-heavy Nasdaq to its highest level in 13 years. Meanwhile, the Nikkei 225, Japan's benchmark stock-market index, rallied 1.2% in morning trading amid optimism over the deal in Congress.

Though the nation was captivated by the goings-on at the Capitol for the last few weeks leading up to Thursday’s deadline – a time in which the Treasury Department said it would exhaust its extraordinary measures and rely on $30 billion in cash reserves to pay the nation’s bills – Wall Street took the tumult in stride.

Essentially, the Street said it wasn’t worried about the threat of default, and continued to believe, despite repeatedly failed attempts, that Congress would come to a resolution to resolve the government shutdown and avoid the potential default.

Still, many traders and analysts struck a cautious tone and expressed frustration with lawmakers .

Michael Block, chief strategist at Rhino Trading Partners said, said all the legislation does is “kick the can down the road,” and package-up the fiscal fights to be re-opened early in the new year.

“It’s a bit perverse really,” he wrote in a note to clients Wednesday afternoon. “(Wall Street says,) ’Well, we are going to new highs because we are relieved that the government shutdown only lasted seventeen days and we somehow managed to avoid defaulting on our debt. This is so bullish.’  Someday we are going to look back on this and it won’t seem funny.

Beyond Wall Street

The very public drawn-out debate over the borrowing limit and government funding weighed on more than just American sentiment and individual Wall Street traders.

IHS Global Insight Director of Federal Economics Paul Edelstein and Chief U.S. Economist Doug Handler told clients Wednesday the “win” from Congress really isn’t a win for the economy.

With Treasury’s borrowing authority set to expire tomorrow, the US economy dodged a bullet today. But the reprieve will be short as lawmakers only agreed to a three month funding of the government and suspension of the debt ceiling. Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on fiscal policy and the stage is set for another showdown in January,” the pair wrote.

Further, IHS noted the U.S. economy is elastic enough to withstand, what it calls, a short-term episode like this fight, but a longer-term situation could cause Treasury to run out of borrowing authority, miss debt payments, and cause “catastrophic” results.

“Even if we avoid these scenarios, the US’s prestige in global financial markets and world capitals will continue to deteriorate if we lurch from crisis to crisis,” Edelstein and Handler warned.

In its Beige Book report Wednesday, the Federal Reserve said economic activity in September, and the start of October – the entire duration of the partial government shutdown -- grew at a “modest to moderate pace.”

“Contacts across Districts generally remained cautiously optimistic in their outlook for future economic activity, although many also noted an increase in uncertainty due largely to the federal government shutdown and debt ceiling debate,” the Fed said.

Digging into the central bank’s report, Deutsche Bank said the shutdown negatively impacted business confidence and job growth, which it says reflects a “slightly more cautious tone” than the Fed has taken in the past.

To that point, Standard and Poor’s in a press release Wednesday said it expects the shutdown to have cut about $24 billion out of the world's biggest economy.

“In the summer of 2011, as we approached the last debt ceiling standoff, consumer confidence plummeted and hit a 31-year low in August when the debt ceiling issue came to a head. Given that this round of debt-ceiling negotiations is occurring after two-plus weeks of a government shutdown, the total impact on the economy will likely be even more severe,” the ratings firm said.

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