Obama decries ‘unnecessary damage’ to U.S. as 16-day-long shutdown ends
From the Liberty Bell to Alcatraz, federal landmarks and offices reopened Thursday. Furloughed employees were relieved to get back to work – even if faced with email backlogs – but many worried about another such disruption in a matter of months.
“We’d hate to have to live through this all over again,” Richard Marcus, a 29-year employee of the National Archives in Washington, said after the government shutdown finally ended.
In Washington, President Barack Obama applauded the return of federal workers after a 16-day government shutdown, calling for an end to the partisan rift that he said “inflicted completely unnecessary damage” on the U.S. economy.
Speaking at the White House hours after he signed legislation that reopened national parks and put federal inspectors back on the job, Obama called for a change in Washington’s political climate.
“To all my friends in Congress, understand that how business is done in this town has to change because we’ve all got a lot of work to do on behalf of the American people and that includes the hard work of regaining their trust,” Obama said. “There’s no good reason why we can’t govern responsibly, despite our differences, without lurching from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis.”
Still, he had a pointed message for the Republicans who had pushed to repeal his signature health care law in exchange for funding the government, saying, “You don’t like a particular policy, or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election.”
Compromise has long eluded the administration and Congress on a host of issues, but top budget negotiators met for breakfast Thursday, insisting this time would be different.
After all, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top House Budget Committee Democrat, “not talking guarantees failure. Talking doesn’t guarantee success, but if you don’t get together, obviously, you can’t move forward.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, also sounded a note of cooperation: “There’s a lot we can do, a number of things I know we can agree on and I hope we could agree on.”
Nationwide, from big-city office buildings to wilderness outposts, innumerable federal services and operations shifted back into gear after 16 days.
The U.S. Forest Service started lifting a logging ban on national forests. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services restarted the computerized system used to verify the legal status of workers. Boat trips resumed to Alcatraz, the former federal prison in San Francisco Bay, with 1,600 tickets snapped up by tourists in the first hour of business.
In Alaska, federal officials rushed to get the red king crab fishing season underway. The opening had been delayed because furloughed workers were not around to issue crab-quota permits.
National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said all 401 national park units – from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California to Acadia National Park in Maine – were reopening Thursday.
More than 20,000 National Park Service employees had been among the 800,000 federal workers sent home at the peak of the shutdown.
Visitors from around the world flocked to Yosemite National Park to see such famous sites as El Capitan and Half Dome after weeks of closure brought local economies to a near standstill.
At Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, employees were busy with reopening chores. They returned just in time to begin closing the parks up again for the winter in a couple of weeks.
At Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park, one couple’s long wait to see the Liberty Bell and other attractions finally drew to a close.
Karen and Richard Dodds, of Oklahoma City, were on a quest to see every national park in the U.S. They arrived in Philadelphia about three weeks ago in their motor home, visiting Valley Forge just before the shutdown. They stayed on in the area, awaiting a settlement.
“They didn’t solve anything by this,” Katie Dodds said of the temporary agreement in Congress that funds the government only through Jan. 15 and gives it the borrowing authority it needs only through Feb. 7. “The worst part is they’ll do it again in January and February.”
Among the many sites reopening in Washington were the Smithsonian Institution’s museums and the World War II memorial on the National Mall, which had been the scene of protests over the shutdown.
Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said the museum complex lost about $2.8 million in revenue during the shutdown.
The National Zoo was set to reopen today, though its popular panda cam went live Thursday morning, giving fans a view of a cub wriggling about as its mother, Mei Xiang, tucked her paws under her chin and watched.
Federal workers who were furloughed or worked without pay during the shutdown will get back pay in their next paychecks, which for most employees come Oct. 29.
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