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October 17, 2013

Vermont Delegation Votes to Avert Default, Reopen the Federal Government

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) voted for a last-minute deal Wednesday night to avert a national default and reopen the federal government.

Though the deal was seen as a victory for President Obama and congressional Democrats — and a stinging rebuke to conservative Republicans — Vermont's congressional delegates expressed little joy over the resolution to the 16-day standoff.

"It's a bad deal — only in the sense that we never should've gotten here," Leahy said Wednesday evening. "The grownups should've stopped this from happening a long time ago ... It never should've come to this."

The bill, which passed the Senate by an 81-18 vote and the House by a 285-144 vote, funds the federal government through January 15 and raises the debt limit through February 7. It also sets in motion bicameral negotiations to resolve Congress' longstanding budget disagreements.

Welch, who had rallied support for a no-strings-attached bill to raise the nation's debt ceiling, shared Leahy's frustration with the two-week ordeal

"This is a spectacle that was inflicted on the American people and was completely unnecessary," he said Wednesday afternoon. "We didn't pick this fight, but we had to wade through it."

Nevertheless, Welch argued that bipartisan acceptance of the bill would signal to House Republicans that their attempts to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act would not succeed — and that their tactics would not find favor with the American people.

"There's been a repudiation of what I would call nuclear tactics to get your way on a point of view," he said. 

Sanders, who declined to speak with Seven Days, said in a press release, "It is clear to me that this nightmare must end, that the government must reopen and that the United States must pay its bills."

He cautioned, however, that by extending automatic spending cuts, known as budget sequestration, through January, the short-term deal would result in job losses for many Americans.

Calling the atmosphere in the nation's capital "crazy," Leahy said that Congress' willingness to risk defaulting on its loans and its inability to fully fund the government could haunt the U.S. for some time.

"The lasting damage, because of a small group of nihilists, is horrible — and we ought to be sitting down and actually doing things people expect us to do," he said. "That's not a Democratic or Republican view. It's an American view."

Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has warned in recent weeks that Congress' inaction could imperil Vermont's economy — not to mention the state budget, which relies heavily on federal funding — hailed the agreement Wednesday afternoon in a written statement.

"Going forward, hopefully Washington will take a lesson from Vermont, where we debate issues vigorously but ultimately share a commitment to putting our collective interests ahead of our personal ideologies," the governor said.

Wednesday's last-minute negotiations kept both Leahy and Sanders from making good on prior commitments. Leahy had been scheduled that night to attend a dinner in his honor held by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, which named him "citizen of the year." Leahy's wife, Marcelle, attended in his place.

Sanders had planned to hold a town hall meeting in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday night — the first stop in a four-state tour of the South organized by a Democratic super PAC. Sanders' spokesman said the senator would attend the remaining three events Thursday and Friday in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Disclosure: Paul Heintz worked as Peter Welch’s communications director from November 2008 to March 2011.

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