WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Barack Obama said Thursday there were “no winners” in the deal that ended the 16-day government shutdown and averted a possible U.S. default, then challenged Republican conservatives to drop their anti-government ideology and change how business gets done in Washington.
In a tough and somber statement hours after signing legislation passed by Congress to reopen the government, Obama said the standoff “inflicted completely unnecessary damage (to) our economy” by slowing growth and increasing borrowing costs.
“There are no winners here,” Obama said before blaming the brinksmanship that flirted with the first default in U.S. history on no-compromise tactics of the Republican tea party wing in Congress.
“The American people are completely fed up with Washington,” he said, reflecting polls that show support for Congress at historic lows.
Decrying “another self-inflicted crisis,” Obama said there was “no economic rationale for all of this,” taking aim at conservatives who he said pushed for the shutdown on grounds they were doing it to save the American economy.
Instead, the president argued, the political brinksmanship of the Republican right that manufactured crisis caused the most pain.
He repeated his call for Congress to now take a “balanced approach” on a budget for the rest of the current fiscal year that would “cut out things we don’t need,” “close corporate tax loopholes that don’t create jobs,” and “free up resources for things that do help the country grow,” like research and infrastructure.
“Let’s work together to make government work better instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse,” the President said in a direct jab at tea party conservatives.
“You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election,” he said, adding “push to change it, but don’t break it” because “that’s not being faithful to what this country’s about.”
He ended by saying “we can’t degenerate into hatred” and quoting part of the Pledge of Allegiance that states America is “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’
Back to work
The partial government shutdown and standoff over the debt ceiling ended late Wednesday night when Congress voted on a temporary funding bill that also raised the nation’s borrowing limit.
Before Obama spoke, federal employees returned to work Thursday to mini coffee cakes from the Vice President and hugs from colleagues, along with eye rolls about their “vacation” due to the partial government shutdown.
The workers streamed into government offices in Washington and opened national landmarks such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis that had been closed during the shutdown that started on October 1.
Obama paid tribute to those who worked without pay during the shutdown or were furloughed because of the political imbroglio, saying: “Thanks for your service. Welcome back. What you do is important.”
The congressional stalemate ended when Republicans caved to the insistence of Obama and Democrats that legislation funding the government and raising the federal borrowing limit should be free — or at least mostly free — from partisan issues and tactics.
After all the bickering and grandstanding, the billions lost and trust squandered, the result amounted to much ado about nothing.
“I am happy it’s ended,” Vice President Joe Biden said when he arrived at the Environmental Protection Agency with the cakes handed out to returning workers. “It was unnecessary to begin with. I’m happy it’s ended.”
In the basement of the Capitol, there were exuberant hugs as furloughed colleagues were welcomed back, but there was also bitterness toward the elected legislators in charge upstairs.
A common refrain was the sarcastic question: “How was your vacation?” Responses were often nonverbal — an eye roll, a head shake, an angry glare, the occasional ironic laugh.
Kicking the can
The agreement to end the shutdown and avert a potential government default came Wednesday from Senate leaders after House Republicans were unable to get their own caucus to support a GOP proposal.
Hardline Republicans, whose opposition to Obama’s signature health care reforms set the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis in motion, got pretty much zip — except maybe marred reputations.
“To say we as Republicans left a lot on the table would be one of the biggest understatements in American political history,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted.
However, it all amounts to the cliched kicking of the can down the road, because the deal passed by Congress in lightning fashion Wednesday night and signed by Obama in the wee hours of Thursday only funds the government through January 15 and raises the debt ceiling until February 7.
The agreement set up budget negotiations between the GOP-led House and Democratic-led Senate intended to reach a broader agreement on funding the government for the fiscal year that ends on September 30.
Ideally, a budget compromise would ensure government funding and include deficit reduction provisions that would prevent another round of default-threatening brinksmanship in three months’ time.
On Thursday, leaders of the House and Senate budget committees — Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington — held a symbolic breakfast to get the dialogue started.
They noted that their negotiations — called a conference between their two committees to work out differences in budgets passed by each chamber — differed from a special committee set up under 2011 legislation that failed to agree on broader deficit reduction steps.
“Chairman Ryan knows I’m not gonna vote for his budget. I know that he’s not gonna vote for mine,” Murray told reporters, saying the goal was to find “the common ground between our two budgets that we both can vote on.”
Everything came together Wednesday on a frenzied night of deadline deals.
The Senate brokered a bill to end the shutdown and raise the debt limit, then passed with broad bipartisan support.
The GOP-led House also passed it, with about 80 Republicans joining a unified Democratic caucus in support, while well over 100 House Republicans voted “no.”
Had Congress not approved a debt limit increase, the government would have lost its authority to borrow more money to pay all of its bills. Social Security checks and veterans’ benefits could have stopped. The markets could have gone into a tailspin.
Approval of the temporary spending plan meant the return to work of more than 800,000 furloughed employees, while more than 1 million others who’ve been working without pay will get paychecks again.
A provision in the agreement guaranteed back pay for government workers for the shutdown.
However, the measure doesn’t address many of the contentious and complicated issues that continue to divide Democrats and Republicans, such as changes to entitlement programs and tax reform.
“We think that we’ll be back here in January debating the same issues,” John Chambers, managing director of Standard and Poor’s rating service, told CNN on Wednesday night. “This is, I fear, a permanent feature of our budgetary process.”
A $24 billion battle
The partial government shutdown came at a steep cost. Standard and Poor’s estimated it took a $24 billion bite out of the economy.
Then there’s the impact it had on politicians’ image. If there’s one thing polls showed that Americans agreed on, it’s that they don’t trust Congress — with Republicans bearing more blame than anyone else for what transpired.
Both sides kept talking past each other, with Republicans insisting for a time that defunding, delaying or otherwise altering Obamacare must be part of any final deal.
Democrats, meanwhile, stood firm in insisting they’d negotiate — but only after the passage of a spending bill and legislation to raise the debt without anti-Obamacare add-ons.
In the end, Democrats largely got what they wanted after some last-minute talks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McConnell said any upcoming spending deal should adhere to caps set in a 2011 law that included the forced cuts known as sequestration.
“Preserving this law is critically important to the future of our country,” McConnell said of the Budget Control Act, which resulted from the previous debt ceiling crisis in Washington.
Republicans did get a small Obamacare concession: requiring the government to confirm the eligibility of people receiving federal subsidies under the health care program.
While some Republicans, such as tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, claimed moral victories in energizing their movement, House Speaker John Boehner didn’t even pretend his side came out victorious.
“We fought the good fight; we just didn’t win,” he told a radio station in his home state of Ohio.
Cruz, despite being in the Senate, is credited with spearheading the House Republican effort to attach amendments that would have dismantled or defunded Obamacare.
All were rejected by the Democratic-led Senate, and Obama also pledged to veto them, meaning there was virtually no chance they ever would have succeeded.
Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire called the House GOP tactic of tying Obamacare to the shutdown legislation “an ill-conceived strategy from the beginning, not a winning strategy.”
Wall Street welcomed the news of a deal on Wednesday as stocks rose sharply. But it was back to business on Thursday with concerns over business fundamentals pushing the market lower.
The Senate’s Democratic leader said he never wants to go through the recent turmoil again.
“Let’s be honest: This was pain inflicted on our nation for no good reason, and we cannot make — we cannot, cannot make — the same mistake again,” Reid said Wednesday.
But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich predicts the tea party and staunch conservatives in the GOP will be more energized after not getting the anti-Obamacare amendments they wanted.
“They will be more embittered, more angry. They will find more ways to go after Obama because they can’t find any way to get him to negotiate,” he said, adding that he expects Obamacare to become the defining issue of the next two elections cycles.
As Obama walked away from a news conference Wednesday night, he was asked whether he thought America would be going through this brouhaha again in a few months.
His answer: “No.”