|Obama on Wednesday. (AP)
Washington, Oct. 17: The US government sputtered back to life today after President Barack Obama and Congress ended a 16-day shutdown, clearing the way for federal agencies to again deliver services, reopen public facilities and welcome hundreds of thousands of furloughed employees returning to work.
The political standoff in the capital ended just minutes before a midnight deadline when the government’s ability to borrow money would have expired. Republicans conceded defeat yesterday by agreeing to finance the operations of the government until January 15 and raise the nation’s debt limit through the middle of February.
The Senate voted overwhelmingly, 81 to 18. The House followed suit a few hours later, voting 285 to 144 to approve the Senate plan.
The agreement paves the way for another series of budget negotiations in the weeks ahead, even as conservative Republicans vowed to renew their fight for cuts in spending and changes to the affordable care act.
Just hours after Obama signed the temporary spending measure into law, agencies in Washington and across the country prepared to reopen offices, public parks, research projects and community programmes.
The government’s top personnel officer announced that officials should restart normal functions “in a prompt and orderly manner”.
In Washington, the city’s subway trains were once again packed with federal workers streaming in from the suburbs, government IDs dangling from lanyards around their necks. At the Lincoln Memorial, tourists waited nearby as a park ranger cut down the signs announcing that the memorial was closed.
At the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, vice-president Joseph R. Biden Jr. showed up to see workers who had been furloughed.
“I brought some muffins!” Biden said as he arrived at the security desk. When he was asked about the shutdown, he said: “I’m happy it’s ended. It was unnecessary to begin with. I’m happy it’s ended.” He greeted returning workers with handshakes and hugs.
The Smithsonian Institution announced via Twitter that its museums would reopen to the public today and that visitors would be invited back to the National Zoo from tomorrow. The popular “Panda Cam” was once again broadcasting live streams of the zoo’s newest panda cub.
But how quickly other parts of the government will resume normal operations was not immediately clear. By dawn, few government websites had been updated to reflect the government’s new status.
The interior department memo hinted at how long it will take for the government to be fully functioning. It said snack bars at the main interior building would be open, but the cafeteria would be closed. Shuttles between interior buildings will not be operating, the memorandum said.
Across the globe, investors shrugged at the decision by US politicians to end the shutdown. European stocks dipped today as investors appeared more interested in other corporate news than the political drama playing out in Washington. Wall Street appeared set for a lower opening.
In Washington, politicians immediately began the post-shutdown posturing as they braced for another confrontation over spending, taxes and health care in the budget negotiations that are set to begin in the days and weeks ahead.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, urged his party colleagues to make sure that those talks did not lead to another high-stakes battle that put the government at risk again.