By David Espo
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — 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., chair of the Senate Budget Committee.
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.
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.
The fault line separated tea party adherents from the balance of the rank and file. And there were clear signs the split was enduring, though not widening.
In Mississippi, where GOP Sen. Thad Cochran has not yet announced if he will seek a new term in 2014, the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund were not waiting to find out. They endorsed a potential rival, Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel, as he announced his candidacy.