WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama warned Thursday that a last-minute deal to reopen the government and avert a default has not ended deep political and fiscal ideological battles that could provoke a similar crisis in just a few months.
Obama admonished his Republican opponents not to repeat the same cycle that he said damaged America’s credibility and “encouraged our enemies” around the world. But there was little certainty about what will happen next as both sides began to regroup and map out their strategies ahead of yet another round of deadlines on spending and debt.
Some political experts suggested Republicans might not be so eager for another fight after polls showed the party bore the brunt of public blame for the 16-day shutdown, triggered after House Republicans refused to fund the government unless Obama agreed to defund or delay his signature health care law. But, fresh from defeat, some hardcore small-government tea party groups were already promising future assaults on “Obama-care.”
Hundreds of thousands of federal staff began returning to work Thursday after legislation passed both houses of Congress late Wednesday to fund the government until Jan. 15. The measure also gave Treasury the ability to borrow above the $16.7 trillion limit until Feb. 7 or a few weeks longer.
The bipartisan deal was welcomed around the world, but anxiety persisted about America’s long-term stability.
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.
“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.
Inside the Capitol, lawmakers charged with forging a postshutdown deficit-cutting agreement in the next 60 days met privately. “We believe there is common ground,” said Sen. Patty Murray, the Democratic chair of the Senate Budget Committee.
Privately, however, officials in both parties said the prospects for a major breakthrough are dim, given differences over taxes and spending that have proven compromise-proof through three years of divided government.
The impasse had shuttered national parks and monuments, and mostly closed down agencies such as NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency. Critical functions of government went on as usual, but the closure and potential default weighed on the economy and spooked the financial markets. Standard & Poor’s estimated the shutdown took $24 billion out of the economy.
The Smithsonian Institution in Washington declared on Twitter that it was back in business, announcing that its 19 museums would reopen Thursday. The National Zoo was set to reopen Friday and its popular panda cam was already back online.
House Republicans sparked the crisis on Oct. 1 when they refused to fund the government unless Obama agreed to defund or delay his health care law, known as “Obamacare.” The government shutdown was soon overshadowed when House Republicans also refused to up the government’s borrowing authority so the U.S. could pay its bills, raising the specter of a catastrophic default.
Obama refused to budge, proclaiming repeatedly that he would not to pay a “ransom” in order to get Congress to pass normally routine legislation. In the end, the bipartisan deal left his health care program intact and gave Republicans little to show for the fight.
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.
Not so of the Republicans. Eighteen Republican members in the Senate and 144 in the House opposed the legislation, while 27 in the Senate and 87 in the House supported it.
Several polls showed a steep decline in public approval for Republicans. Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said the American people clearly disapprove of how Republicans, and also Democrats and the president, handled the budget crisis.
“Hopefully, the lesson is to stop this foolish childishness,” McCain said Thursday on CNN.