WASHINGTON — The U.S. government sputtered back to life Thursday 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 back to work.
The political standoff in the nation’s capital ended just minutes before the midnight deadline when the government’s ability to borrow money would have expired. Republicans conceded defeat 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.
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 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 that 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,” 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 Joe Biden showed up to see workers who had been furloughed. “I brought some muffins!” Biden said as he arrived at the security desk. Asked about the shutdown, he said: “I’m happy it’s ended. It was unnecessary to begin with. I’m happy it’s ended.”