WASHINGTON — Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., conceded Thursday that the bipartisan agreement she supported to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling is “not that great.”
The deal only hits the snooze button on the budget battle until January and contains few concessions to Republicans — much less than Fischer had fought to obtain.
“But it's a time that we can cool off,” Fischer told The World-Herald. “It's a time when hopefully everybody is going to take a step back and realize that we need to be acting in responsible ways.”
Fischer has taken criticism from right and left during the showdown.
She was among the Senate Republicans who signed a letter over the summer stating they would vote to keep the government open only if the health care law were defunded.
That aggressive, Tea Party-inspired approach produced a stalemate with Democrats, who refused to negotiate over the health care law and compared Republicans to hostage takers demanding a ransom.
The impasse prompted a partial government shutdown that dragged on for more than two weeks. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were furloughed. National parks closed. Even the National Zoo's beloved panda cam feed went dark.
As the debt ceiling was caught up in the showdown, the United States went right up to the brink of defaulting on its financial obligations and rattling the global economy.
Still, Fischer defended Republicans' bid to force the administration to the table over the health care law.
“Looking back, it's always easy to armchair quarterback, but I got into that because I believed it was an opportunity where we could negotiate,” Fischer said.
Fischer said she has learned a few hard-won lessons during the intense showdown.
For starters, when President Barack Obama said he would not negotiate concessions tied to the debt ceiling, he meant it.
But Fischer noted that the president also has said he is willing to talk with Republicans about entitlement programs, including the health care law, after the government was reopened and the debt ceiling had been raised. She said she hopes he follows through on that.
Fischer also learned a few things about life in the minority of the U.S. Senate after years in the officially nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature, where she said there's more give-and-take between Republicans and Democrats.
Capitol Hill is a different scene.
“You don't have any control over bills, you don't have any control over the agenda, you know we can't even put up any procedural motions,” she said. “But that's a fact of life on where we're at, and we'll learn how to deal with that and deal with our colleagues.”
News outlets played up the role of three Senate Republican women, led by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who took to the Senate floor during the showdown and made the case for moderate compromise to end the standoff. Democrats pointed out that Fischer was the only female GOP senator who didn't participate.
Fischer said that she had talked to Collins but that there were elements of their plan she couldn't support.
In the end, however, Fischer broke with hard-line Senate Republican conservatives led by Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, who had spawned the defund-or-else framework and refused to support the final deal.
Fischer voted for the measure to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, despite the limited number of concessions. The deal does include a process for future budget talks, and new provisions to certify income levels for those seeking federal health insurance subsidies.
On Thursday, she said part of her reasoning was the impact on national security.
“It was not a good situation for our enemies to be watching our government in dysfunction,” Fischer said.
Some of those on the right weren't happy to see her voting yes. Even one of her good friends told her, she said, that he disagreed with her decision to support reopening the government.
But she said he also told her that he still supported her because he trusted her judgment.
She expressed no regrets for backing the strategy that tied funding most of the federal government to rolling back the new health care law.
“I don't ever look back with regrets,” Fischer said. “You learn from the experience.”