By Mary Orndorff Troyan, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - South Carolina's senators were divided Wednesday over the bipartisan deal to end the shutdown of the federal government and avoid defaulting on the nation's debt.
Late Wednesday night, Congress approved a deal to reopen the government through Jan. 15, suspend the debt ceiling until Feb. 7 and start long-term budget negotiations. President Barack Obama promised to sign the measure as soon as it reaches his desk.
Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday was still holding out for a provision to end the employer-provided subsidy for members of Congress to purchase health insurance on the new exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. But by Wednesday he decided to settle for the deal negotiated by leaders of both parties that made no major changes to the health care law.
The deal "is far from great news but brings to an end - at least temporarily - a disaster," Graham said.
"To say we as Republicans left a lot on the table would be one of the biggest understatements in American political history," Graham said. "We could have done much, much better. . . . (But) by the time we got to this point, we were playing poker only holding a pair of twos."
Republican Sen. Tim Scott voted against the agreement, reached in the final hours by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Scott's comments on the deal made no mention of the Affordable Care Act. Instead, he focused on the lack of a long-term solution to the nation's $16.7 trillion debt.
"Ending the government shutdown is a good thing; however, raising the debt ceiling with absolutely zero offsetting reductions in spending is the poster child for the lack of fiscal foresight that is commonplace in Washington," Scott said.
On his way to the floor for the vote late Wednesday, Scott said his concerns were always about the numbers.
"I don't like short-term (stopgap spending plans). I think they're bad for the country, bad for budgeting and it's impossible to run a business that way," Scott said. "I can't stand Obamacare either, but that has not been the crux of my argument. My argument has been about the spending levels."
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, was a stalwart supporter of the effort to defund the Affordable Care Act, often calling Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a "patriot" for his persistence. And because the deal leaves the health care law intact, Duncan voted 'no.'
"But it also didn't do enough to address spending and debt," Duncan said earlier Wednesday after a meeting with his GOP colleagues in the House. "The bigger picture is . . . we're getting ready to raise the debt ceiling. At the end of the day, we had zero conversation about spending and what's necessitating our borrowing of more money."
Politically, Duncan said he had no regrets on the strategy to try to defund the health care law through the spending bills that keep the government open.
"It was a fight we thought the American people wanted us to fight at this time over what many Americans see is happening with this massive government program known as Obamacare," Duncan said. "The fight was worth having."
Although Republican leaders eventually accepted a deal he couldn't support, Duncan said he was happy that House Republican leaders let the fight last as long as it did.
"I have more respect for (Republican leadership) today than I may have had before this battle," Duncan said. "No regrets."
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, also voted against it. He wanted major changes to the Affordable Care Act and he's unsure the upcoming long-term debt negotiations will result in meaningful changes.
"Is it good to avert what would have happened tomorrow? Of course. Yes. Are we any closer to a global solution? No," Gowdy said.