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US employees ordered to return to work today as shut down ends

President Barack Obama signed the measure which will raise the debt ceiling and reopen the federal government late last night.

President Barack Obama walks out to make a statement to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington last night.
President Barack Obama walks out to make a statement to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington last night.
Image: Press Association

THE US GOVERNMENT reopened its doors today after a battle-weary Congress approved a bipartisan measure to end a 16-day partial shutdown and avert the possibility of an economy-jarring default on US obligations.

Earlier today, President Barack Obama signed the measure, which the House and Senate passed late last night, ending a brawl with Republicans who tried to use the must-pass legislation to mount a last-ditch effort to derail the president’s landmark health care law and demand concessions on the budget.

Back to work

The White House directed all agencies to reopen promptly and in an orderly fashion. Furloughed federal employees across the country are expected to return to work this morning.

The impasse had shuttered national parks and monuments, and mostly closed down NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department. Critical functions of government went on as usual and most federal employees won’t see their paychecks delayed, but the closure and potential default weighed on the economy and spooked the financial markets.

There were signs earlier today that the federal government was slowly coming back to life. “We’re back from the #shutdown!” the Smithsonian Institution crowed on Twitter, announcing that museums would reopen today.

Damage to US economy

Standard & Poor’s estimated the shutdown has taken $24 billion out of the economy, and the Fitch credit rating agency warned on Tuesday that it was reviewing its AAA rating on US government debt for a possible downgrade.

Obama and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill were the decisive winners in the fight, which was sparked by tea party Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who prevailed upon skeptical GOP leaders to use a normally routine short-term funding bill to “defund” the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare.

“We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, conceded in a radio interview. He was given positive reviews from Republicans for his handling of the crisis, though it again exposed the tenuous grasp he holds over the fractious House GOP conference.

The agreement was brokered by the Senate’s top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and its Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. They stepped in after the House was unable to coalesce around a Republican-only approach Tuesday.

The Senate approved the legislation by an 81-18 vote; the House followed suit by a tally of 285-144, with 87 Republicans in favor and 144 against, breaking an informal rule in which a majority of the majority party is supposed to carry legislation.

Passing the bill

Democrats unanimously supported the bill, even though it locks in funding at levels required by across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.

The bill’s passage was only a temporary truce that sets up another collision between Obama and Republicans over spending and borrowing early next year.

It’s the second time this year that Congress has passed legislation to increase the government’s borrowing cap.

“With the shutdown behind us,” Obama said after the Senate vote, “we now have an opportunity to focus on a sensible budget that is responsible, that is fair and that helps hardworking people all across this country”.

Read: US avoids default as last-minute deal is struck>

Read: Statue of Liberty and Grand Canyon to reopen>

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Associated Press

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