ABOVE PHOTO: Capitol Visitor Center tour guide Mary Ellen Anderson, of Alexandria, Va., calls over a group of visitors for the start of a tour on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 in Washington. After a 16 day shutdown the Capitol Visitors Center reopened, barriers went down at National Park Service sites, and thousands of furloughed federal workers began returning to work throughout the country.
(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
By Andrew Taylor
WASHINGTON — The government unlocked its doors Thursday after 16 days, with President Barack Obama saluting the resolution of Congress’ standoff but lambasting Republicans for the partial shutdown that he said had damaged the U.S. economy and America’s credibility around the world.
“The American people are completely fed up with Washington,” Obama said in stern remarks at the White House, just hours after signing a last-minute measure from Congress that headed off the threat that the nation would default on its debts.
The nation’s credit rating was jeopardized, economic growth and hiring were slowed and federal workers deprived of paychecks, Obama said, all because of “yet another self-inflicted crisis.”
In hopes of averting another standoff early next year when the temporary measure runs out, Congress’ four top budget writers met over breakfast to begin two months of budget talks. Obama urged them to put aside partisan differences and brinkmanship tactics to find common ground.
Obama 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,” he declared. “We always do.”
The House and Senate voted late Wednesday night to end the showdown that began when Republicans tried unsuccessfully to use must-pass funding legislation to derail the president’s landmark health care law.
PHOTO: Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, with House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., right, walks to a meeting of House Republicans at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, as a partial government shutdown enters its third week. It is not yet clear how Boehner and tea party members in the House majority will respond to the Senate’s Democratic and Republican leaders closing in on a deal to avoid an economy-menacing Treasury default and end the partial government shutdown.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Early Thursday, Obama signed the measure and directed all agencies to reopen promptly. The government unlocked office doors, carried away barriers and lifted entrance gates at parks across the country.
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 mid-January. And the nation’s borrowing limit will need another increase shortly after that. 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 #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.
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.
Standard & Poor’s estimated the shutdown has taken $24 billion out of the economy, and the Fitch credit rating agency warned Tuesday that it was reviewing its AAA rating on U.S. government debt for a possible downgrade.