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.


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

    Comment number 174.

    The Fed is printing billions of Dollars every month and buying government debt. When the printing presses stop the world economy will crash. This must be the biggest Ponzi scheme in History

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    I wouldn't hold up Argentina as a glowing example of post default growth. A country that nationalised its oil company, realised it didn't have the money to exploit the tonnes of shale gas it is sat on (and couldn't borrow because of its record) and then has to effectively re-privatise it with Chevron to get the stuff out. Clueless. Defaulting on debt is not something to be proud of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    I think the US gov't & media have the average citizen behind the 8 ball. The people have been told they are the best. They are fed reality tv of the worst order. History isn't in books but the propaganda of Hollywood films. They no nothing of the world outside their borders. Asked who discovered America & you will hear "Jesus" (biblical not hispanic). Under their mentality-gov't can do whatever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Fails to address the underlying problem that the US is essentially bankrupt. The level of public debt accrued as a result of a tax cut for the rich, two wars, and a massive bailout is unsustainable. There is no sign of the US making meaningful cuts in Federal spending, which means public debt will only increase. It is no longer a question of if the US will default on its debt, but when.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Isn't it ironic that the form of democracy that the USA tries to force down the throats of other countries around the world is starting to look ridiculous. Republicans - you lost the election, get over it.

  • Comment number 169.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    @28.Sally the Rothbardian
    ... China won't lend to bankrupts forever. Then what?

    China only accounts for 8% for US debt, Also the US, as a currency issuing nation, has infinite capacity to buy its own debt. it already holds a significant proportion of its debt, most of the US national debt is owed to itself, It might like china etc to buy the debt but it doesn't actually need it to buy any

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    I think he could have gained more by just allowing the default, great despair breeds great hope and zeal to go out and make your reputation back up. This would have actually helped America grow in a meaningful way such as Argentina or Iceland have since their defaults, instead though it's back on the gravy train. :) More gravy anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    This emphasis on economic growth and expansion will cripple this planet. Capitalism simply doesn't work, infinite economic growth based on finite resources. There you have a problem. This is linked directly to government borrowing, we got too greedy and have now had to borrow to the hilt to bail ourselves out and keep things ticking over. This is one big time-bomb.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    ""I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits – either now or in the future. Period." Obama, Sept. 2009"

    How embarassing to use this to attack Obama.

    If you can't tell the difference between debt and deficit you shouldn't be allowed out in the hours of daylight.

    Most of Obamas debt is compounded interest on GWB's lunatic& inept foreign wars and his tax cuts for the rich

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    Who cares less! Life would roll along quite nicely without the usa

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    The void of effective presidential leadership, intential polarization by both parties, has put us in the position we're in. You can put Reid's or Cruz's face on the blame, but both them, their likes and a idiologicly driven president are the reason the impass exists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    GOP's support among any minority group (be it racial, religious, linguistic, nationality etc) is very poor. GOP's traditional white, christian southern-midwestern vote bank is also shrinking due to changing demography.

    GOP's ability to attract new voters, motivate swing voters are severely damaged due to its wrong emphasis on a very narrow, die-hard, hereditary vote bank in South & Midwest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    @158 plushpuppy8 "....even the mighty stumble over their own feet from time to time.'
    Mighty? Don't think so!!! From time to time - now you are joking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    It is so odd to hear Republican talk about "government spending" and "fiscal responsibility" when all the figures show that the republicans spent more (wastefully) under GWB! some how they don't see "tax cuts" and "wars" as COSTS!! and where the hell was the 'tea party" during the GWB spending spree!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    I enjoyed the government shutdown on my back patio sipping homemade Margueritas and playing Dave Brubeck CDs. My fine state, Arizona, took responsibility to fund the re-opening of the Grand Canyon
    national park. Let Mexico buy back Texas for $7 Trillion.
    As John Hodgman of "The Daily Show" entones...
    "PROBLEM SOLVED.!" Cheerio!

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    A shame that the mightiest democracy in the world should make itself look ludicrous but even the mighty stumble over their own feet from time to time.

  • Comment number 157.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    America needs some political reform. How can a voted in President and his party not hold the power of majority to set their own political agenda. Sadly this debt deal has only delayed the childish fighting for another day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Worse thing about all this: timing. It distracted the public awareness and outrage over the fact that the Obama Administration can't even build (and for $36 mn) a website that works to enroll in this dopey "health care" scheme of theirs. It still doesn't work. Imagine if Amazon, eBay or United Airlines had websites that didn't work? The Government can't screw in a light bulb. But they can ban them


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