By Carrie Dann, Political Reporter, NBC News
WASHINGTON (NBC) - After weeks of stalemate that shuttered the government for 16 days and brought the nation within hours of a key deadline to renew its borrowing authority, the standoff is finally over.
President Barack Obama has signed into law a bill to re-open the government and extend the debt ceiling – just hours after the House and Senate passed the measure with broad bipartisan support.
Obama said the measure would immediately restart federal programs that had been put on hold during the funding lapse.
“We will begin reopening our government immediately,” he said in remarks before the House passed the bill. “And we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease from our businesses and the American people.”
The GOP-dominated House passed the measure 285-144, with 87 Republicans joining all Democrats in support. The Senate passed it 81-18. In both chambers, only Republicans voted against the measure.
Office of Management and Budget director Sylvia Mathews Burwell told federal employees to expect to return to work on Thursday morning.
Federal employees who were furloughed as a result of the shutdown will receive back pay "as soon as practicable," according to the bill's text.
The bill will fund the federal government through Jan. 15 and extend the government’s borrowing power through Feb. 7. It also calls for a congressional agreement by mid-December on a long-term budget plan.
After a long and tedious process, the Senate compromise is only a short-term deal allowing the federal government to operate through January 15, and conservatives who fought to de-fund or delay Obamacare have had to concede defeat. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.
After more than two weeks of standoff over the government shutdown, Republicans -- faced with Thursday’s debt ceiling deadline -- were forced to accept a deal with only minor concessions from Democrats.
After the Senate vote, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the occasion "a somber day," noting the effects of the shutdown on Americans.
"The bottom line is millions suffered. Millions didn’t get paychecks. The economy was dragged down, and confidence and faith in the United States' credit -- and in the United States itself around the world -- was shaken," he said.
The defeat for the GOP after both chambers spent days warring over competing budget proposals. An eleventh-hour GOP plan in the House collapsed late Tuesday night, leaving lawmakers with no option except to take up a compromise framework crafted by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, slammed fellow Republicans in the upper chamber for “directing their cannon fire” at conservatives in the House, who repeatedly rejected proposals that they said didn’t do enough to gut the president’s health care law.
“This is a terrible deal today,” Cruz said on the Senate floor. “This is a terrible deal for the American people.”
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, a close ally of Cruz, argued that Republicans were right to fight the shutdown battle over opposition to Obamacare.
"Even if victory seemed difficult or impossible, that wouldn't excuse me or anyone else from doing the right thing," he said. "Avoiding difficult battles is, after all, how we ended up in this kind of mess.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks on the chamber floor Wednesday evening to oppose a plan to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling.
The passage of the new temporary funding bill became clear earlier Wednesday, when House Speaker John Boehner formally announced that Republicans will not oppose the bill en masse.
“The House has fought with everything it has to convince the president of the United States to engage in bipartisan negotiations aimed at addressing our country's debt and providing fairness for the American people under ObamaCare,” Boehner said in a statement. “That fight will continue. But blocking the bipartisan agreement reached today by the members of the Senate will not be a tactic for us.”
Boehner and other Republican lawmakers had come under pressure to reach an agreement as the impasse roiled stocks in recent days.
Ratings agency Standard and Poor’s estimated Wednesday that the shutdown “shaved at least 0.6% off of annualized fourth-quarter 2013 GDP growth.” That works out to a $24 billion bite out of the American economy, a number that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi cited on the House floor before the vote.
“My colleagues, do you think that your recklessness was worth $24 billion to our economy?” she said of Republicans in the House. “This recklessness is a luxury the American people cannot afford.”
The stock market, sensing an agreement, rallied Wednesday from the opening bell. The Dow Jones industrial average soared 205 points, and other indexes approached all-time highs.
Crucially, bond investors signaled they were less worried, too. Yields on short-term government debt, even loans coming due next week, fell sharply, a sign that investors felt surer that they would get their money back.