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 194.

    Politicians who serve their own and their parties interests should be shunned- they are there to represent their state/constituency and should work for the good of those people who live there. Politicians live on a higher plane than the rest of the world and its time they were put in their place. Servants not demi gods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Perhaps the US electorate should metaphorically look to re-enact the Boston Tea Party with the current members of the Madhatters one....

    Chuck them out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    I've been following the people against Monsanto movement, which stemmed a large part out of California. But when Obama signed the Monsanto Protection Act in January, I heard nary a peep out of the liberal and activist public in mainstream media. I see a lot of banter about Bush and the Patriot Act, but nary a peep about how Obama EXPANDED on the patriot act. Both parties are out for themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    US national debt was 40% of GDP in 2000, in 2012 it was 102% of GDP. By all standard measures, the US is a failing economy. Indulging greed makes people fat and lazy - the same is true of nation states.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Tea Party Republicans like to talk about the deficit and link the issue to healthcare. The US has the worst health outcomes relative to overall cost of any health system in the world, because the mix of private insurance, direct charging of patients for treatment and publicly subsidised private insurance is so inefficient that, if they adopted a European model, they could eliminate the deficit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    @175.Sally the Rothbardian
    Your ignorantce of economics is breath taking, Tea Party economics
    As soon as anyone brings up Weimar & zimbabwe you know they know nothing, The US has & can continue to buy significant amounts of its own debt without significant inflation. Chinas 8% holding is small, in 2011 the UK held 3% but Osbourne cashed it in, if China did the same it wouldn't be a huge problem

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    @173. vonBraun
    Financial growth? No maybe not, growth of culture yes, the two are very different. Financial 'growth' rarely brings with it true cultural advance and growth in ways not measured by flow of monopoly money

    BBC was just this week covering the boom in self publishing of books that Iceland has seen since their default. Only war can hold the fort against defaults power to fuel growth

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    The Madhatter's Tea Party. “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to." "I don't much care where –" "Then it doesn't matter which way you go.” "You mean, whether it's $16,700,000,000,000 or $50,000,000,000,000, nobody gives a rabbit's foot?" "One tea and a thousand minters please, Mr. Mouse."

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Debt in itself is not all bad. Debt that you can afford is OK. The issue in the US is that they have reached the tipping point with regards to their ability to furnish their debt.Couple this with their spending and tax take and we see the edge comming nearer and nearer with the can kicked to the very edge. It makes for an interesting few months until the next instalment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    More than ever I'm proud of our House of Lords setup. This is the result of an elected upper chamber having a voter mandate. This is what Nick Clegg wants - the removal of a non-partisan body of respected experts and replacing them with politically charged and ideologically blinded politicians. I'm glad that the Tories didn't listen to him in the end!

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Don't think Obama will be drinking tea(Party),cleaning his automatic(NRA),whilst watching Fox News in the Oval Office after this,maybe he can pardon another turkey or three!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    The US government collected $2.45 trillion in tax revenue in 2012. It spent $3.54 trillion in the same year, adding over $1 trillion to the national debt. Even if the Federal government cut total spending by 50% and applied all the savings to reducing the national debt, it would take 25 years to pay of the current debt, assuming 0% interest. Bankrupt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Those that are American citizens reading this I hope you understand that the crisis is still coming. The tea party is just the first of many groups that will form up to try to bring fiscal reason to our government. You may not like all that they represent, being largely libertian, but they fight the man, and by supporting democrats and the propoganda out of most media you fight with the man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    What a circus! Clowns performed while world watched. Federal employees got free pass since they will be paid retroactively anyway. And who really cares if a tourist did not get to see a museum.
    What? $25+Billion lost? Ben, start the printer. Next show Scheduled in 4 months.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    I know that the USA healthcare needed reform and the Republicans have shot themselves in the foot over Obamacare.

    What I fail to understand is how a rich nation like the USA can quadruple its national debt in 15 years and think everything is fine.

    They can never ever pay this off. Its hyperinflation, default or war all of which will make the recent events seem literally like a tea party.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    What a NON STORY

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    The Republicans who started this mess will hopefully have terrible careers from now on. These people have too much power and it is ridiculous that all our livelihoods can be affected by such a small group of selfish people. I wonder what can be done so that we can reduce the effect the American economy has on our economies?

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    'Bout time............Lazy so and so's

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    What a laughing stock the US is. Yet they have the audacity to go round the world exporting their version of democracy. Hilarious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    That is a HUGE amount, making it the largest creditor to the USA in the world. Should China dump its worthless USA bonds (Latin root bondage as in slaver), everyone else will too, USA will have to rely on the US Fed monetising the remaining global borrowings. Doing so will make Weimar Republic look like a picnic. USA's credit rating will be like Zimbabwe's!


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