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 214.

    The US is broke and this deal only kicks the can down the road. For those believing Obamacare = NHS think again. The GOP have a point about the deficit but this is the end for the United States as we have known it as the financial chickens come home to roost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    I'm really glad amrican government employees have got back to work, I am just trying to work out how to stay out of poverty by working and how to pay my gas and electric bill, without paying 145 a year to allow the beeb to garner advertising revenue, from overseas stories.
    Sounds like quite a nasty school we are paying for doesn't it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    @198.Sally the Rothbardian
    4. I am Austrian School Economics.

    No you're Loonytunes Tea Party (who aren't associated with an economics school because they can't spell economics), who want to keep people subjugated & poor by threatening them with bogeymen be it Weimar, Zimbabwe or debt clocks so they accept huge cuts in their standard of living

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

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

    With diminishing resources, increasing demand and a fixed planet size, how business is done has to change everwhere; and soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    @a_consumer We are hearing a lot of talk over here about this being on purpose in order to tank the dollar and head to a new form of currency. Honestly, at this point, paying attention to what our government has job creation, people living in tents and parking lots, not being able to afford this healthcare..It may very well be possible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    How will Barry Obama make good the damage he's done to people and businesses over the past few weeks?

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    204 * I agree . The financial markets are n't thick . There is risk holding the dollar . The question of default must be considered as a real possibility , even if its due to poor political judgement ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    What is the point of having a debt ceiling if you just print more money and raise it. Are they mad?

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    I'm a Brit, living in the US.
    What I see (no interest in politics) is a government that jumps in to tell other countries how to run themselves, but cannot keep its own dishonest house in order.
    America's downfall is its sloth culture. Time and time again I hear people telling me they cannot work due to 'health issues', when what they mean is 'lifestyle issues', because they are fat and lazy.

  • Comment number 205.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    Its only a temporary solution.

    American politics remains poisonous to the point where certain politicians would rather see the US fail than a President from a rival party succeed.

    They'll be another blackmail/deadlock in a few months or so, whenever those particular politicians see another oppurtunity to throw their toys out of the pram.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    ... personal choices like health care.

    >>> Health care is a personal choice only for those who can afford it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    So as a country (GB) with a government run heath care system (NHS), were you better off before the NHS or after?
    For one of the president's top advertisers to say.."we need to pass OC in order to find out what is in the bill" says so much about the politicians over here.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    I'm more concerned with the problems in my own country with children now starving and people out of work and going hungry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    default, as Argentina or Iceland

    Iceland may count as a technical default but it only delayed repayment, its now paid a significant proportion of its debts.

    Argentina was self inflicted default by neo-liberals who voluntarily gave up control of their currency (very Tea Party) then proceeded to acrue debt in a foreign currency (US debt is all in $), from there there's no way back

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    This agreement hasn't dealt with the underlying problem of the deficit and in a few months time, it's all going to happen again. Obama really needs to get a grip on the deficit, rather than continuing to ratchet it up.

  • Comment number 198.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Recently back from the US. Believe me, the average US citizen is no fool but how they can watch the daily tripe served up by Sean Herrity, Glen Beck etc; of Fox News beats me. This TV channel indirectly spawned the Tea Party! And guess who owns and pulls the strings? a certain Mr Murdoch! This man has questions to answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    If you really think the GOP are just in it for the profit and helping their corporate mates then go look at the details of how obamacare works. Its basically a blank cheque (or check for our cousins over the pond) to the insurance companies. There is no incentive for any reduction in cost. Its like the energy companies here but on a much larger scale.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    #175.Sally the Rothbardian
    I must have missed the US dispossessing all its farmers & giving the land to non farmers then borrowing foreign currency to buy food whilst simultbaneously shutting down its industry - its only means of earning foreign currency. cos that the only way the US could become like Zimbabwe


Page 16 of 26


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