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 514.

    Republicans have made a smart move. It proved that America can live without Obama regime at least for a few weeks (its redundancy.) Maybe they can cut down the deficits by operating as part-time government in the near future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 513.

    @ Slavemaster

    Cost of 1 slave at todays equivalent price = $50,000

  • rate this

    Comment number 512.

    Bearing in mind that they keep raising the debt ceiling, what is the point of having one? Why not have an unlimited ceiling. They could then wreck their economy without having these tiresome talks bi-annually.

  • rate this

    Comment number 511.

    At least they can go back to work safe in the knowledge that they are American. According to an etiquette expert on Breakfast this morning I must be Italian or African, because I would give my seat up for a pregnant woman. I'm off to change me passport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 510.

    493. MagicKirin

    You need to recognise that when a bill has been enacted into law it is then the law of the land. If you don't wish it to be the law of the land then you need to win a few more elections in other parts of the executive and legislature. Then you can repeal it. Until that point don't block the law of the land, especially if you claim to uphold the rule of law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 509.

    A lot of us would agree that half of Congress is comprised of idiots, but not agree as to which half. Too many of us live in illusions, trying to replace reality with fantasies, upon that most of us would agree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 508.

    Obamacare as a new launch in universal medical insurance for less- fortunate Americans abounds in noble intentions while suffering from teething problems. Obama is doing his best to smooth the rough edges but one needs to appreciate that even hurry takes time. Republicans - to get over their complex - kept the nation at bay yielding at the 11th hourl as if they were favouring the nation. Jai Ho!

  • rate this

    Comment number 507.

    How can this criminal organisation that is the US government be stopped from printing $Debt, all of which ultimately creates worldwide inflation by pushing up the prices worldwide of food, commodities, stocks and shares and property. Food is critical as these debt junkies are pushing up prices and starving people in poor nations. The US is an immoral state not fit to control the reserve currency.

  • rate this

    Comment number 506.

    Won't they have been to work and be now be asleep?

  • rate this

    Comment number 505.

    503 Jwiki
    "Shutting down"had nothing to do with "checks and balances",merely Republican intransigence and the extreme right of the party having a very loud voice in addition to still not excepting they lost an election and Obama was/is the man chosen to lead,so thats what he's trying to do despite the efforts of the Tea Party,Fox News,NRA,and lobbyists.
    It's like watching a child stamping his feet

  • rate this

    Comment number 504.

    Let's look at several things: The bill passed has no proposals for fixing the debt nor did anything about the ACA. Politicians used it as a tool to serve their interests with earmarks working out at costing over half a billion dollars per page in additional spending. A bill held up over the US debt! Ludicrous behaviour and a poor representation of the American people by politicians. Disgraceful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    The US government shutting down is EXACTLY how a checks and balances system is supposed to work. Obama now saying that "How business is done in this town has to change." scares me more than anything else. When you have people how survived a communist regime telling you that your country is headed in the same direction, it might be time to take a closer look at what is going on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 502.

    If Obamacare is so blooming marvellous why did He give exemptions to congress, senate, unions, himself etc........

    If the NHS is so marvellous, why is riddled with care lapses, hygiene issues, etc, etc,

    If raising debt is so great an idea why did Barack Obama vote against it when Bush was President and the debt level a fraction of what it is now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    Some folks, guess who, are likely making a l lotta money out of the shutdown and they'll be back for more in the New Year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    It's beyond time to conclude $US as Global Currency is a failure. Crisis experts feared was not even perpetual credit, the Default problem is always about Inability to pay Interest on existing Debt. So why is rest of Humanity burdened with Paying Bills? "Opposite to Poverty is Justice, not Wealth"; Bill Moyer. Everything US is, has, and ever will be is based on Unpaid Credit. That must Change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.

    This is Arch Criminal stuff org crime can only dream of. World's richest Nation got there On-Tick with no plan to ever pay it's Debt, while using perpetual Credit to Domineer the Planet. One thing Sadam Hussein & Moammar Kadhafi had in common was intention to switch from $US. Kadhafi wanted Gold, reasoning if $US was solid it could buy Gold before he Validated their 'paper' with Libyan Oil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    496 Sacawa "The graph above" shows debt, a growing proportion of which is interest on borrowing which has taken place over the last 30 years to fund tax breaks for those "engines of economic growth," mega corporations & the super wealthy. A good part of that debt is the money "borrowed" from our Social Security funds, which the Greedy Old Party is trying to disfund (ie steal & not pay back).

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    How bad does it have to get before the seriously rich start to pay the same proportion of taxes that the rest of us have to?

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    495 RaisedXwolves "The solution? Raise revenue. Charge for government services in proportion to the benefit received( i.e, tax wealth). If 30 years of failed "Reaganomics" have taught us nothing we deserve the failure that will certainly be visited upon us."

    Funny.. Looking at the graph above shows some kick a.. spending over the past 6 years, and revenue wasn't on his mind!

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    We need to stop talking about spending cuts. We can't cut the major expense: interest on our debt. The solution? Raise revenue. Charge for government services in proportion to the benefit received( i.e, tax wealth). If 30 years of failed "Reaganomics" have taught us nothing we deserve the failure that will certainly be visited upon us.


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