President Barack Obama said Thursday, as the federal government blinked back to life, that the 16-day shutdown and threat of national default had inflicted “completely unnecessary damage on our economy.”
“The American people are completely fed up with Washington,” he said from the White House. “Nothing has done more to undermine our economy these last three years than the kind of tactics that create these manufactured crises.”
He spoke hours after Congress swerved at the last minute to dodge a threatened economic catastrophe and ended the standoff, leaving Republicans with little to show for the fight.
Hundreds of thousands of furloughed workers were ordered back on the job. At the Capitol, where two nighttime votes ended the stalemate, tours resumed for a clearly frustrated American public. A museum specialist wound the historic Ohio Clock in the Senate, which froze at 12:14 on Oct. 9 because no one was around to wind it, and bent his ear low to hear it ticking.
“We’re all terribly glad to be back,” Robert Gertz, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, told NBC affiliate WXIA as he showed up for work, carrying bagels for his team in the strep lab. The CDC furloughed 8,700 of its 13,000 workers during the shutdown and couldn’t track the flu and other outbreaks.
The U.S. Geological Survey, the people who map mountains and measure earthquakes, posted a simple message on Twitter at sunrise, 16 days after its last tweet: “ … and we’re back.”
Barricades came down at national monuments. People posed for pictures at the Lincoln Memorial. A Park Ranger took down the “THIS SITE IS CLOSED” sign at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The Smithsonian museum said it would open again Thursday, but other institutions needed a little more time to get back to business. The gates of the National Zoo will open Friday, the halls of the National Gallery of Art on Saturday.
Panda Cam, which allows admirers to check in on Mei Xiang and her cub, was still blacked out, but the National Zoo said it should be back later Thursday.
White House Budget Office
A memo from the White House Budget Office ordering the reopening of government departments and agencies following the end of the government shutdown.
The Office of Management and Budget, which oversees the executive branch, posted a notice: “All employees who were on furlough due to the absence of appropriations may now return to work. You should reopen offices in a prompt and orderly manner.”
The restart came after votes in the Senate, by 81-18, and the House, by 285-144, to end the shutdown and extend the government’s power to borrow money.
Independent economists and the treasury secretary had warned that, at an undetermined point as early as Thursday, the government was at risk of running out of money and defaulting on its bond payments.
Obama on Thursday credited “Democrats and responsible Republicans” for coming together to end the shutdown. And he encouraged lawmakers to stop focusing on lobbyists, bloggers and radio talking heads, and start focusing on economic growth.
“These twin threats to our economy have been lifted,” he said, referring to the shutdown and default threat. But he added: “There are no winners here. These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy.”
Republicans, who had insisted on delaying or defunding Obama’s signature health care law, were left with only a small concession — tighter income verifications for people getting federal subsidies for insurance.
The party was left bearing the brunt of public blame for the shutdown, bruised by historically low approval ratings and plagued by infighting.
A primary challenger to Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell in his re-election campaign next year accused him of “selling out conservatives” by working with Senate Democrats to negotiate a compromise to end the shutdown.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a Tea Party favorite, suggested that the outcome of the fight would have been “very, very different” had Senate Republicans stood by their counterparts in the House.
And beleaguered House Speaker John Boehner, the top elected Republican in the country, offered: “We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win.”
Obama said between the votes: “We’ll begin reopening our government immediately and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and the American people.”
Kasie Hunt of NBC News contributed to this report.
First published October 17 2013, 10:27 AM