Lawmakers explain votes on debt deal

In the wake of an 11th-hour deal Wednesday night that reopened the federal government and spared the country a possible debt default, Pennsylvania’s Republican representatives explained their votes in a decision that split the party across the country.

The vote – which pushed spending and debt deadlines to early next year while offering few concessions to Republicans – spurred accusations of “surrender” from some conservatives.

But for local congressmen who voted for the deal, including Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, and Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-5th District, it was the last chance to prevent a devastating default while forcing both parties back into broader negotiations.

“I absolutely thought about it long and hard,” said Shuster, who was among 87 House Republicans to support the last-minute deal in a vote Wednesday. “This was not an easy vote. This was a tough vote for me to take.”

The Senate-created deal finances the government through Jan. 15 and extends the nation’s debt limit to Feb. 7 while tightening relatively minor controls on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Some in Congress have expressed hope that the coming months could include broader deals on the national debt and entitlement spending.

Despite backing from House Republican leaders, Shuster and Thompson were in the minority of their own party: 144 fellow Republicans, including Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-12th, voted against the deal.

“I was surprised,” Shuster said of the divide. In an interview and a news release explaining his vote, Shuster said a debt default was “not an option.”

District residents’ retirement savings and 401(k) accounts would be eviscerated by a default, which would have plunged the stock market and possibly sparked a recession, he said.

“For those folks that say this is surrender … I couldn’t look my constituents in the eye and say, ‘Too bad,'” he said.

In a news release defending his vote, Thompson struck a similar chord, arguing that periodic funding showdowns can’t continue as they have for the past two years.

“I’ve been calling for the political brinksmanship to end. … Washington cannot continue to operate in perpetual crisis mode,” he said.

Rothfus – one of four Pennsylvanian House members to vote against the deal – blamed President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for the shutdown, arguing that their refusal to negotiate amid the federal closure extended the problem for weeks.

Rothfus’ “no” vote may have come as a surprise after he stated in a television interview hours before the deal: “You know, it’s time for the shutdown to end.”

Rothfus said Thursday that House Republicans tried repeatedly to reopen the government, citing failed negotiation attempts and repeated requests for Democrats to “come to the table.”

Rothfus acknowledged that the shutdown might have drawn attention from one of his party’s main goals: fighting Obamacare, the bulk of which rolled out at the start of the month.

“I think that’s fair,” he said of the suggestion that the health care system’s troubled rollout would have been bigger news had the government continued to be funded.

Rothfus was preceded by a “no” vote in the Senate from Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who said in a news release that he had long supported reopening the government but couldn’t abide another debt ceiling increase without budget reforms. Toomey was among just 18 senators who opposed the deal.

Regardless of their votes, central Pennsylvania representatives expressed cautious optimism that planned deficit talks could break this Congress’ cycle of fiscal crises.

“We’re hopeful that we are going to get a long-term solution to the deficit problem in this country,” Shuster said.

Rothfus, meanwhile, is already looking to the next deadline as some of his colleagues have reportedly described a “Round 2” less than three months away.

“The first order of business is the spending bill to keep the government funded from Jan. 15 to Sept. 30,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.