WASHINGTON (AP) — In withering day-after criticism, President Barack Obama declared Thursday that the 16-day partial government shutdown was a Republican-provoked spectacle that “encouraged our enemies” around the world.
Elsewhere in Washington, and around the country, federal employees simply streamed back to their jobs. National parks reopened. The popular panda cam at the National Zoo came back online.
But there was no letup in the political fight.
Fresh from a defeat, tea party groups and their allies renewed fundraising efforts with a promise of future assaults on Obama’s health care overhaul — and a threat of more election primaries against Republican incumbents who don’t stand with them.
Government spending was still front and center. Inside the Capitol, lawmakers charged with forging a post-shutdown deficit-cutting agreement in the next 60 days met privately. “We believe there is common ground,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee.
Privately, however, officials in both parties said the prospects for a major breakthrough were dim, given differences over taxes and spending that have proved compromise-proof throughout the current three-year era of divided government.
A few hours after Obama placed his post-midnight signature on legislation ending the long political showdown, Vice President Joe Biden was at the Environmental Protection Agency to greet returning employees. “I hope this is the end of this,” he said, but he acknowledged “There’s no guarantees.”
That was a reference to the last-minute legislation that will fund the government only until Jan. 15 and give Treasury the ability to borrow above the $16.7 trillion limit until Feb. 7 or a few weeks longer.
At the White House, Obama blended sharp criticism of Republicans with a plea for their cooperation over the remainder of the year and a call for less shrillness on both sides.
“Some of the same folks who pushed for the shutdown and threatened default claimed their actions were needed to get America back on track,” he said in remarks in the State Dining Room.
“But probably nothing has done more damage to America’s credibility to the world. ... It’s encouraged our enemies. It’s emboldened our competitors. And it’s depressed our friends who look to us for steady leadership,” he said.
Obama said the public is “completely fed up with Washington” and he and Congress face hard work in regaining trust. It was a reference to public opinion polls that show the nation in a sour mood — though more inclined to blame Republicans than the president and his party for the first partial government shutdown caused by politics in 17 years.
Hoping to jump-start his own stalled agenda, Obama urged lawmakers to concentrate on three items in the coming weeks: a balanced plan to reduce long-term deficits, legislation to overhaul the immigration system and passage of a farm bill.
Polling aside, Obama’s party emerged from the three-week showdown in Congress united. All Democrats in Congress supported the legislation that passed Wednesday night to fund the government and raise the debt limit.
Not so of the Republicans. Eighteen GOP members in the Senate and 144 in the House opposed the legislation, while 27 in the Senate and 87 in the House supported it.
Spending will be the focus for the high-level budget negotiators who began their new assignment Thursday.
“Talking doesn’t guarantee success,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland, senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, after he met with Democratic Sen. Murray, Republican House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, senior Republican on the Senate committee. But, Van Hollen added, “if you don’t get together, obviously you don’t move forward.”
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this story.