Government open again, Obama bemoans damage

President Barack Obama walks out to make a statement to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama walks out to make a statement to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

By Andrew Taylor

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The government unlocked its doors Thursday after 16 days, with President Barack Obama saluting the resolution of Congress’ bitter standoff but lambasting Republicans for the partial shutdown that he said had damaged the U.S. economy and America’s credibility around the world.

“There are no winners here,” Obama said just hours after signing a last-minute measure from Congress that was free of the Republican demands that had started the showdown. The deal allowed federal workers to return Thursday morning and headed off the threat that the nation would default on its debts, at least for this year.

“The American people are completely fed up with Washington,” Obama said in stern remarks at the White House. The nation’s credit rating was jeopardized, economic growth and hiring were slowed and federal workers were temporarily deprived of paychecks, Obama said, all because of “yet another self-inflicted crisis.”

In hopes of averting another standoff when the just-passed measure runs out, Congress’ four top budget writers met over breakfast to begin new talks on spending and borrowing issues that have bedeviled the divided government for years.

Obama warned lawmakers about disagreements so bitter they could “degenerate into hatred” and urged a shift toward cooperation. He called for Congress to come up with a long-term agreement for restraining Medicare and Social Security spending and to pass immigration and farm and food bills that have floundered amid partisan disputes.

He also sought to assure governments and investors around the world that the “full faith and credit of the United States remains unquestioned.”

“We’ll bounce back from this,” Obama declared. “We always do.”

Eleventh-hour solution

The House and Senate voted late Wednesday night to end the shutdown that began when Republicans tried unsuccessfully to use must-pass funding legislation to derail the president’s landmark health care law.

Early Thursday, Obama signed the measure and directed all agencies to reopen promptly. The government unlocked office doors, carried barriers away from national monuments and lifted entrance gates at parks across the county.

The relief felt by furloughed federal employees was tempered by worry that the truce might not last much past the holidays. Congress approved government funding only through Jan. 15.

To head off a default, the package gives the government the authority to borrow what it needs through Feb. 7. Treasury officials will be able to use bookkeeping maneuvers to delay a potential default for several weeks beyond that date, as they have done in the past. Among the maneuvers, officials can suspend contributions to one of the pension plans used by federal retirees.

In the meantime, lawmakers will try to find agreement on how to replace this year’s across-the-board spending cuts with more orderly deficit reduction.

“I hope this is the end of this,” said Vice President Joe Biden, who greeted workers returning to the Environmental Protection Agency with hugs, handshakes and muffins. But Biden acknowledged, “There’s no guarantees of anything.”

The small group of lawmakers tasked with steering Congress out of three years of budget stalemates and standoffs offered no promises.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the group’s goals were “to get this debt under control, to do smart deficit reduction and to do things that we think will grow the economy and get people back to work.”

“We believe there is common ground,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said after their meeting.

The impasse furloughed about 800,000 workers at its peak, before civilian Defense Department employees were called back. It closed down most of NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department and halted work not considered critical at other agencies.

“We’re back from the (hash)shutdown!” the Smithsonian Institution crowed on Twitter, announcing that museums were reopening Thursday. The U.S. Capitol’s visitor center planned to resume tours. “Closed” signs started coming down at national parks and offices across the nation, hours after the deal was sealed in Washington.

Getting paid

Congress agreed to pay federal workers for the missed time. No such luck for contractors and all sorts of other workers whose livelihoods were disrupted.

“More business. More money,” cab driver Osman Naimyar said happily, noting the growing crowds of commuters on Washington streets. He lost about a fifth of his normal fares, he said, while federal workers stayed home and tourists disappeared from the National Mall.

The financial services company Standard & Poor’s estimated the shutdown drained $24 billion out of the economy, and it can’t all be recouped. That’s about $75 for each U.S. resident. Fitch credit rating agency is reviewing its AAA rating on U.S. government debt for a possible downgrade.

Obama and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill were the decisive victors in the fight, which was sparked by tea party Republicans including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. They prevailed upon skeptical GOP leaders to use a normally routine short-term funding bill in an attempt to “defund” the 2010 health care law known as “Obamacare.”

“We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, conceded. He was given positive reviews from Republicans for his handling of the crisis, though it again exposed the tenuous grasp he holds over the fractious House GOP conference.

The shutdown sent approval of the GOP plummeting in opinion polls and exasperated veteran lawmakers who saw it as folly.

“It’s time to restore some sanity to this place,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said before the vote.

The agreement was brokered by the Senate’s top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and its Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. They stepped in after the House was unable to coalesce around a Republican-only approach.

McConnell is up for re-election next year, and the tea party opponent he faces in the Republican primary issued a statement criticizing him for making the deal.

“When the stakes are highest, Mitch McConnell can always be counted on to sell out conservatives,” Matt Bevin said.

The Senate approved the legislation by an 81-18 vote. The House followed suit by a tally of 285-144, with 87 Republicans in favor and 144 against. Democrats unanimously supported the bill, even though it kept across-the-board funding cuts they opposed.

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Jessica Gresko and Connie Cass contributed.

  • American

    Why not shut down Washington so America will survive?

    • TWBDB

      Simple. We live in the UNITED States of America, not the INDEPENDENT States of America. Have you never studied the chaos of feudalism? the terrors of tribalism in the Middle East? the carnage of the Civil War? Can you just imaigne the level of chaos to which this nation would sink if we were to depend on 50 separate governance systems to manage the nation?

      • TWBDB

        I’m so sick of hearing ‘treason’ and ‘cessesion’ being bantered about as if it were the preferred course of action.

        • Pragmatic

          Well, since the US Govt has defaulted twice in history and the sun still came up the next day I doubt tomorrow would have been any different. One day the principle that we owe will come due and only paying the interest on it so that the govt can play big brother will do us no good. So there are two options, 1) fail individually or 2) fail together.

          • Guest Person

            It doesn’t work that way besides why self inflict damage on our economy and risk paying more to borrow? It makes no sense to talk doomsday about the debt and turn around and crash the economy on purpose for some radical ideal. The last time we defaulted it costs us trillons just to do business. Talk about a waste of taxpayer money – pay more when you don’t have to. We will always have debt – that is how our bond system works – the point would be not to let the debt level affect the rates and stall investment. Our debt is currently at 4% of GDP and bond rates are the lowest they have ever been. When you discuss debt you should explain what you want to cut and why not just say we have too much debt. The fact that there is no context in your call means you are just repeating a party line.

          • Pragmatic

            Not a party line, more of a personal line. Decrease entitlement spending, rollout drug testing for all entitlement program enrollees with future random tests. Implement nutrional value requirements on SNAP purchases. I do not buy into the re-distribution of wealth. I make what I make because I work for what I make. Period. This country was founded on the basis of equal opportunities, not equal outcomes. the issue is that at 4% of GDP now and the rate at which the bank that Woodrow built is printing money, my children will see that rise to around 6% and their children will see it rise further. Since you see no problem with the current state of affairs, why don’t you try spending 25% more than you make each month and see how long you get away with it. And when you only want to pay the interest on your mortgage ad nauseum, see what you have left to leave your children when you pass. Maybe if the Govt had to pay more for what it did borrow it would borrow less. Right now, spending $65 billion per month more than we collect in taxes isn’t really getting us anywhere.

          • Winston Smith

            Normally I don’t chime in when people talk about food stamps or SNAP benefits, because it’s not like the people receiving these benefits are living high off the hog and for every person abusing the system there’s a family whose children get to eat because of it..

            BUT, yesterday when I was getting gas the lady in front of me bought three bags of pork rinds and a 2 liter mountain dew with a snap card and it really kind of upset me. I don’t think you should just be limited to rice and beans with a SNAP card, but I also don’t think you should be able to buy food that has the nutritional equivalent of rat poison using one.

          • Guest Person

            In 2008 Congress passed a law that you cannot buy junk food with SNAP money – I am not sure what you saw but it was against the law.

          • Winston Smith

            I was wrong in my first post it was an EBT card not a SNAP card, I don’t really know the difference between the two. But either way, you shouldn’t be able to buy pork rinds and soda with food stamps. There’s a sign right under the gas prices at the sprint mart on Mccullough where this took place that reads “We accept EBT” but they don’t sell anything but junk food.

          • Guest Person

            SNAP and EBT are the same thing. EBT means Electronic Benefits Transfer.

            What you saw was against the law. Maybe we should invest more into enforcement.

          • Guest Person

            You mean people don’t borrow money to buy a house, car, start a business or pay for college? Private business and people borrow money all the time to operate. For some reason it is only a crime when the US goverment does it.

            However I did say I was happy with the current state of affairs I was pointing out how you don’t understand how the Treasury Bonds work. In fact our trade policy and deficit is doing more harm to our ecconomy than any of the issues you listed. We are at the lowest tax rates since the 1940s so if you are looking at budgets that needs to be included. I mean if you want to be responsible about it.

            It floors me – we have a social safety net for a reason and when we need it at 9% median unemployment and massive under employment people want to attack it. When middle class wages drop then they think nothing of the massive gains the rich enjoy while having the best tax breaks. As a small business my tax rate is almost 3 times more than Mitt Romey – yet there are those who just wish to blame poor people.

            But at the end of the day you are more than welcome to believe what you wish and not be happy with the way goverment is running – I would suggest crashing the ecconomy is not the way to do it. I suggest getting more people who think like you into office – it seems the State of Mississippi has plenty that think like you and it seems to sit on the bottom of every national ranking except teens having babies.

          • Kevin

            This country was founded on the basis of entitlement for the wealthier sorts and very unequal opportunities, which is why slaves and the so-called “commoner” sorts were stuck in their places with little or no upward mobility.

            Winston Smith is right on two counts–people should make better choices and those getting SNAP benefits do not get them for all of their lives and the money they get doesn’t allow them to live high on the hog.

        • American

          As opposed to the communist way that you favor?

  • American

    Obamacare website is a good example of how consistently bad the administration is

    • Kevin

      If website performances are an indication of how good or bad something is, then the state of Mississippi sucks, the city of Tupelo sucks, and thousands upon thousands of businesses out there are “consistently bad.”

  • Kevin

    “Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said. “We need to get to the underlying cause of
    the problem, which is our out-of-control spending and deficits, and fix
    it before it’s too late and we go down the toilet to bankruptcy because
    that’s where America is headed.”

    Our spending is out of control because of all the money the government gives to big business like Monsanto and Con Agra just to name a couple, in addition to all that money to fight all our wars and station troops at every corner of the globe, and of course the drug war is a big vacuum sucking in all our tax dollars while illicit substances remain as available as ever. If we bring the troops home, end the drug war, and quit forking out billions upon billions of dollars to corporate entities like General Electric and many others, then maybe our spending will go down.

    • Pragmatic

      Or all the money govt gives to entitlement programs.

      • FrereJocques

        So, Pragmatic, would you prefer we spend money on Big Business, foreign wars, the drug war, or spend it on our own people? Yes or no answer, please.

        • Pragmatic

          Yes.

      • Kevin

        The money the government gives to private corporations, the military, law enforcement, etc. enormously outweighs that which the gov. spends on welfare.

  • Guest Person

    According to the S&P Index over 24 billion dollars were flushed out of our economy by this stupid self serving REPUBLICAN political stunt. Where is the outrage?

    When in power Republicans started two wars, two massive tax break for the rich, Medicare drug plan and then relaxed laws to let Wall Street run wild until taxpayers had to bail them out to save our economy. They sent our economy in a tail spin and in a weak recovery want to tell us that poor people on welfare are the reason for our problems.

    Why would anyone trust what a Republican has to say? Why would anyone think they have our country’s best interest in mind?

    And guess what – we get to start all this over again in January.

    • FrereJocques

      There’s plenty of outrage in MY corner. Not only at Republicans, but at the idiots that elected them. We are paying the price for not educating this generation on civics and government in general.

  • DoubleTalk

    Yep, Americans are tired of greedy politicians and all they have done to hurt the US. If you thought you felt pain over the last couple of weeks, you only had a touch of what is coming for years ahead. For me, I never would have known government was partially shutdown absent the hyped news media and whinning workers that actually never lost a penny.

    • FrereJocques

      First, the world doesn’t revolve around you. Lots of people were hurt over this, even if you were fortunate enough not to be. And this will only be repeated if we continue electing idiots like Ted Cruz who have no concept of how our Government is supposed to work.

      • Pragmatic

        Enlighten us to how govt is supposed to work.

        • FrereJocques

          If you really need it explained to you, then I rest my case.

    • TWBDB

      I don’t work for the government and I can tell you I lost more than a penny over this shutdown.

  • Winston Smith

    The fact that the Obama administration closed down un-staffed monuments just as a punitive measure hacks me off. I thought the world was supposed to end with the sequester? But life went on, unchanged. And then the dreaded government shutdown! Again life went on just as it had before. Could it be that maybe the federal government isn’t as important in our day to day lives as it seems to think it is? And please don’t anyone take this as a right wing attack on our president. I hold equal contempt for both parties. I think each side is more concerned with fighting each other than actually governing our country.

    • TWBDB

      I agree Winston but – –
      I don’t know what world you all live in but hell yes the corporate environment was drastically affected. Capital equipment funding had begun to flow freely again in Q1 / Q2 of 2013 until the rhetoric began to heat up and it was obvious the treasonous clowns sent to Congress in the mid-term elections were going to shut down the government and ride it to the brink of the debt ceiling debate. Q3 waned; Q4 has died. Meanwhile Asia markets soar. Working in the real world of capital cash flow mining, vending to start-ups through multinational organizations really opens your eyes to reality.
      So while you all bitch about some old fart not being able to walk the grounds of a national monument, or it not affecting your own lives personally, business dies on the vine.

      • Winston Smith

        So if political gamesmanship and bipartisan rhetoric are hurting big business, shouldn’t we try to eliminate as much influence Washington has over our economy as possible? Granted, my understanding of economics is totally elementary, so my last question might not even make sense. But I guess my point is, so long as our government is a house divided, do you see these trends (eastern markets rising, western markets shrinking) changing?

        • TWBDB

          Winston, I don’t believe there’s a way around the fact that governments, all governments not just ours, have a huge impact on the economic stability of the governed. In fact, I would argue that economic stability is a primary function of a central government. After all, isn’t that at the core of both Democrat and Republican policy.

          • TWBDB

            I don’t see trends changing as long as our government continues to stand as a house divided – that is exactly my point. There has to be moderation in dogma, there has to be mature compromise, and there has to be mutual respect. The American people have allowed those we elect to spread disrespect of opposing views in favor of anarchy. This is unacceptable in civilized society and it’s dangerous to a stable economy. I believe strongly that those in the Tea Party leadership are accutely aware of this fact and are willing to sacrifice economic growth during the remaining Obama term to win political points.

          • Winston Smith

            I just don’t think the words mature compromise exist in Washington anymore.

          • TWBDB

            Maybe not at present but it has in the past and will again. It starts here, on these discussion boards, in the workplace, in the streets: when we remember to celebrate unity and balance rather than rash extremism.