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Shutdown Over, Government Slowly Gets Back to Normal

The United States government sputtered back to life Thursday morning after President 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.

New York Times / MICHAEL D. SHEAR / October 17th, 2013

The political standoff in the nation’s capital ended just minutes before a midnight deadline when the government’s ability to borrow money would have expired. Republicans conceded defeat on Wednesday by agreeing to finance the operations of government until Jan. 15 and raise the nation’s debt limit through the middle of February. The Senate passed the legislation first, and the House followed around 10:15 p.m.

Government Shutdown Over

The agreement paves the way for another series of budget negotiations in the weeks ahead, even as conservative Republicans in the House and Senate vowed to renew their fight for cuts in spending and changes to the Affordable Care Act.

Just hours after Mr. Obama signed the temporary spending measure into law around 12:30 a.m., agencies in Washington and across the country prepared to reopen offices, public parks, research projects and community programs that have been mothballed for more than two weeks. 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.

Robert Lagana said Thursday morning he was eager to get back to his job at the International Trade Commission.

“It beats climbing the walls, wondering where your next paycheck is going to be and how you’re going to make your bills,” Mr. Lagana said as he made his way to his office near L’Enfant Plaza.

But he also expressed frustration with lawmakers who held up the budget over the new health care law. “They really need to come up with a law where this never happens again,” he said, adding later, “You just feel like you don’t have a voice.”

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!” Mr. 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 on Thursday and that visitors would be invited back to the National Zoo beginning on Friday. The popular “Panda Cam” was once again broadcasting live streams of the zoo’s newest panda cub by late Thursday morning.

Officials at the Hirshhorn Museum in downtown Washington announced on Twitter that it planned to open at 10 a.m. Thursday. “To make up for lost time, please look twice as hard,” the museum officials said.

But how quickly other parts of the government will resume normal operations was not immediately clear. By dawn, few government Web sites had been updated to reflect the government’s new status. A banner at the top of the National Park Service Web site still read: “Because of the federal government shutdown, national parks are closed and the National Park Service website is not being maintained.”

Some federal agencies began offering employees guidance for their return to work. A memorandum from officials at the Department of the Interior encouraged returning workers to check their e-mail and voicemail, fill out their timecards and to “check on any refrigerators and throw out any perished food.”

The Interior 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 on Thursday, but the cafeteria would be closed. Shuttles between Interior buildings in the capital will not be operating, the memorandum said.

“We want to welcome you back and do everything possible to ease this transition,” Rhea Suh, the department’s assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, said in the memo. “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.”

Across the globe, investors shrugged at the decision by United States politicians to end the shutdown. European stocks dipped on Thursday 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.

The euro zone’s blue-chip Euro Stoxx 50 index was down 0.4 percent in afternoon trading, retreating from a 2-1/2 year high hit on Wednesday. Futures trading on the Dow Jones industrial average indicated a mild pullback after a 1.4 percent gain on Wednesday.

“People are ‘selling the news,’” said David Thebault, head of quantitative sales trading at Global Equities. “The agreement was priced in stocks, and now that it’s behind us and political risk has been removed, investors are offloading portfolio protection.”

Financial officials in the United States expressed deep skepticism about the likelihood that the parties in Washington would reach a better outcome as they seek a broader budget deal by the end of the year.

Richard Fisher, the president of the Dallas Federal Reserve, told the Reuters news agency that the country would not get unemployment under control unless lawmakers and the president “get their act together.” A longtime critic of the Fed’s efforts to buy bonds to stimulate the economy, Mr. Fisher said that a long-term solution was unclear.

“Kicking the can down the road for a few months will not solve the pathology of fiscal misfeasance that undermines our economy and threatens our future,” Mr. Fisher said, adding that the Fed’s stimulus cannot “offset the rot that is destroying our fiscal house and the blight it spreads over our economy.”

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.

“We’ve got to assure the American people that we are not going to do this again,” Mr. McCain said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday. He said Republicans should “focus on the provisions of Obamacare that are not acceptable” and make sure they get “a positive agenda for the party so we can be for things rather than against things, for opening things rather than closing them.”

Tea Party conservatives insisted that the fight that led to the shutdown was not a wasted effort, even though they were not able to defund or delay the president’s health care law.

“We fought for fairness,” said Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Carolina, on CNN’s “New Day” program. “If you stand up for what you believe in, I think you will always find yourself on the right side of things.”

“Sometimes,” he added, “this is the only way.”

Emmarie Huetteman contributed reporting.

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