US government employees head back to work

 

Tourists express joy at the reopening of Washington attractions

Hundreds of thousands of US government employees are back at work after President Barack Obama signed a law ending a 16-day government shutdown and extending the US debt limit.

The cross-party deal came hours before the US government risked running out of money to pay its bills.

"There are no winners," Mr Obama said, adding the US would "bounce back".

The deal followed 16 days of partial government shutdown, which began when Congress failed to agree on a budget.

Perhaps the president has a tin ear when it comes to understanding the concerns of his opponents.

But this is probably more about positioning, ahead of next year's midterm elections. If he does get deals done, then he and the Democrats look good. But if it all ends in chaos and more obstruction, he's already told voters who is to blame and what is at stake.

By posing as the only adult in a room full of squabbling children, he's more likely to make their tantrums worse in the future.

And the voters may have had enough of hysterics.

Congress voted through the deal less hours before a deadline to raise the $16.7tn (£10.5tn) debt limit.

The measure approved in Washington funds the government to 15 January, and extends the US Treasury's borrowing authority until 7 February.

The deal does not resolve the budgetary issues that fiercely divide Republicans and Democrats. Instead, it establishes a cross-party committee of legislators tasked with crafting a long-term budget deal and reporting back to Congress by mid-December.

A faction of Republicans in the hardline Tea Party movement had pushed for the confrontation as a way to gut Mr Obama's healthcare reform.

Unnecessary damage

However, Mr Obama and the Democrats refused to negotiate, and the law commonly known as Obamacare escaped relatively unscathed.

Workers said they were "pleased and excited" to get back to the office

On Thursday, Mr Obama thanked congressional leaders for their help ending the government shutdown and raising the debt limit, but said both had "inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy".

"Nothing has done more to undermine our economy the last three years than the kind of tactics that create these kinds of manufactured crises," he said.

Mr Obama said politicians had to stop listening to "talking heads" and activists "who profit from conflict" and instead focus on growing the economy and creating a responsible budget.

"The American people are completely fed up with Washington," he said. "How business is done in this town has to change."

Mr Obama called the political crises "a spectacle" which had hurt America's credibility in the world.

And to the conservative Republicans who pushed the showdown as a way to extract policy concessions, he said: "Go out there and win an election."

Politicians, bankers and economists had warned of global economic calamity unless an agreement to raise the US government's borrowing limit were reached.

IMF head Christine Lagarde's positive response to the news was tempered by a call for further action.

"It will be essential to reduce uncertainty surrounding the conduct of fiscal policy by raising the debt limit in a more durable manner," she said in a statement.

Economists have estimated the shutdown cost the US economy billions of dollars.

Sacrifices

The shutdown affected Americans and visitors to the US in countless ways: most national parks were closed, medical research ground to a halt, and ordinary paperwork went unfinished, delaying visa applications, business permits and safety inspections.

President Obama: "How business is done in this town has to change."

Hundreds of thousands of employees were put on leave without pay during the shutdown, with many forced to delay purchases or even payment of routine bills. A few days into the shutdown Congress passed a law ensuring they would receive back pay.

Before dawn on Thursday, the US Office of Personnel Management, which manages the federal workforce, announced in a terse statement on its website that government workers should return to work as regularly scheduled.

A senior manager at the Department of the Interior, which oversees the national parks system and other public land, reminded employees to disable "out of office" email messages, change voicemail prompts, and "check on any refrigerators and throw out any perished food".

"We appreciate your sacrifices through these difficult times and we understand that the lapse in government activities has imposed hardships on you, your families, and the people we serve," Rhea Suh, assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, wrote.

Federal workers returning to the downtown Washington DC office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were greeted by Vice-President Joe Biden and a welcome note from their boss, agency head Gina McCarthy.

'Down the toilet'

World press reaction

  • New York Times editorial: "The Republican Party slunk away on Wednesday from its failed, ruinous strategy to get its way through the use of havoc"
  • Commentary in China's The Nan Fang Daily: "If we want to get out of this passive unfavourable situation in the long term, we can only reduce the role of the US dollar and the US debt in the global market"
  • Philippe Gelie in France's Le Figaro: "The spectacle presented in Washington over the last few weeks goes beyond the excessive taste of the Americans for political drama"

A security officer at the building said the shutdown had been "depressing" and had made her realise how much she enjoyed her job.

"I enjoy checking in 500 people every day," said Ettereteen Welch.

Spurred on by hardline conservatives, congressional Republicans forced the stand-off by linking budget measures to healthcare reform.

Despite reluctant support from the House Republican leadership for the bill approved on Wednesday, most of the party's lawmakers in the House voted against it.

Republican Congressman Mo Brooks told the Associated Press news agency the law that ended the shutdown merely delayed the fight.

"We need to get to the underlying cause of the problem, which is our out-of-control spending and deficits," he said, "and fix it before it's too late and we go down the toilet to bankruptcy. Because that's where America is headed."

Graph showing US debt ceiling and which party holds presidency, House/Senate
 

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 54.

    The Republicans have just made sure in the last two weeks that a Democrat President will be elected for the next four years.

  • rate this
    +16

    Comment number 53.

    The immediate problem may be past, but I get the feeling that this is really the calm before the storm.

    This sort of debt level is just unsustainable and unrealistic.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 52.

    I can think of a few problems with what the Tea Party did.
    1) They committed political suicide
    2) They think that they hold the opinion of the majority of America
    3) they tried something the founding fathers would probably HATE. As someone pointed out, if they wanted this to happen, they'd have set up a tyranny instead of a democracy.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 51.

    The US federal government has become and expensive controlling and largely unaccountable beast.
    I think at this stage what's needed is for most of the states to secede from the federation, and form smaller more accountable governments without the current disconnect to the public.
    These multiple competing states will also be more conducive to liberties than a giant overbearing superpower.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 50.

    39.Truth logic sustainability the final frontiers
    China is a bubble too, no question. But, it is a producer, it produces stuff, and exports it. It is a huge creditor nation. The USA is the world's largest debtor. When the tide goes out, who do you think will be left naked?

    http://www.financialsense.com/contributors/leslie-cuadra/2011/08/31/list-of-worlds-largest-creditor-and-debtor-nations

  • rate this
    +20

    Comment number 49.

    @35 "socialist nonsense"

    The gap between the rich and the poor today is greater than it was during the great depression. One in six americans, most of whom are elderly and children, survive solely due to the food stamps. One in ten don’t have access to any medical care. We all saw how you abandoned hundreds of thousands of americans during catrina hurricane because they were black or poor!

  • rate this
    +56

    Comment number 48.

    "Popojo
    Some ignorant people in Europe seem to think Americans want mandatory health care. The crude fact is that vast majority don’t ! Because it’s too costly"

    Optional healthcare in the USA: 18% of GDP

    Universal healthcare in "socialist" Europe: France, Germany, Switzerland 11-11.5%; Holland 12%; UK, Sweden, Spain, Italy 9.5%.

    Where is it the most costly? Just asking!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 47.

    Even our personal credit cards have limits. How can 17 trillion+++ be sustained. This debt is suicidal.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 46.

    America is now no longer a Political Union. Some States would be better going their own way. The Uber Rich own public opinion, and their Micky Mouse News only adds to the Ignorance and the loss of appeal of Politics. There are too many layers of Government, resulting from each State PRETENDING to keep some semblance of differences from each other. Globalism, Tax Avoidance, Accepted Monopolies, LOL

  • rate this
    -16

    Comment number 45.

    It is easy to criticise the American system but it's older than European democracy. I believe Churchill said it best: "...it would be the worst form of government if it were not for all of the others." We designed it to preserve regional differences and regional representation as opposed to parliament. Due to our vast size and diversity we will always have a very vocal rash minority.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 44.

    @32 We have in effect a mandatory health insurance. It's what National Insurance was set up for. Our doctors are well paid, but not the Hollywood salaries of U.S. medics. Not many people here are bankrupted by their 11% N.I. contributions.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 43.

    People forget how young and primitive America is. We, on the other hand, have had hundreds of years to perfect our Democratic processes.........

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 42.

    Here's the crazy thinking..I'm happy to pay $15,000 a year to insurers in premiums and copayments but I don't want to pay the same amount for National Health insurance..and if you are too poor to afford healthcare tough....and all because Americans hate paying taxes.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 41.

    $17,000,000,000,000 of debt. I'd call that an unsuccessful government. "But we're powerful and advanced".. but you don't own any of it.

  • rate this
    +75

    Comment number 40.

    35. Popojo
    Some ignorant people in Europe seem to think Americans want mandatory health care. The crude fact is that vast majority don’t ! Because it’s too costly
    -
    If the vast majority think this why did Obama win two elections?

    Nor is universal health care that costly. Britain spends less than 9% of GDP on healthcare and our average life expectancy is greater than yours. You spend 17% GDP

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 39.

    28.Sally the Rothbardian

    Erm, whats to say that China is not already bankrupt. As a dictatorship, it can write/create/invent what it wants. China has vast brand new citys, empty, it is maintaining a property/financial bubble that makes UK property bubble look like a teeny legoland.

    Many rightfully dont trust wests financial system, so why trust a corrupt secret dictator one!

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 38.

    Bush & Obama have trebled the US Debt in 12 years. If they are on a rampage to kill anywhere on the Planet they have to pay for it.
    Any country that buys into their PR spin of the American Dream need to change their medication.Once we have Governments that stop buying their debt the world will become a better and safer place. If they continue buying it may be put right.

  • Comment number 37.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 36.

    @32 “[obamacare] will bankrupt thousands of middle class, for the benefit of the hospitals, not the poor”

    What bankrupts whatever is still remains of the ever shrinking American middle class is a handful of super rich who practically own the entire country!

  • rate this
    -34

    Comment number 35.

    Some ignorant people in Europe seem to think Americans want mandatory health care. The crude fact is that vast majority don’t ! Because it’s too costly. This is typical pig-headed European socialist nonsense (trying to lecture others on what is best for them). Let the American people decide what health care systems suits them best and respect their decision.

 

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