AP Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The 16-day partial government shutdown was a Republican-provoked spectacle that “encouraged our enemies” around the world, President Barack Obama said Thursday in withering day-after criticism as federal employees everywhere streamed back to work.
Fresh from a political 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.
Privately, however, officials in both parties said the prospects for a major breakthrough were dim, given differences over taxes and spending that have proven compromise-proof throughout the current three-year era of divided government.
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 the 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 night to fund the government and raise the debt limit.
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.
Republicans have said for weeks that the strategy of demanding Obama kill off the health care law he won from Congress never had a chance of success.
“This was a terrible idea,” Sen. John McCain of Arizona said on CNN of the shutdown. He said it will not happen again when the next deadlines arrive — “I guarantee it.”
But in a party divided, there were dissenters.
“Obamacare is still fully intact, out-of-control spending continues, the debt limit is raised without addressing unsustainable spending, and only vague promises are left to address these key issues,” the Tea Party Express said in an online fundraising appeal.
Referring to next year’s elections, the group said, “To put it plain and simple: We don’t have enough conservatives in Congress to stop the irresponsible spending in Washington.”
Spending will be the focus for the high-level budget negotiators who began their new assignment Thursday.
“Talking doesn’t guarantee success,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, after he met with Democratic Sen. Murray, Republican House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, senior Republican on the Senate committee. But, Van Hollen added, “if you don’t get together, obviously you don’t move forward.”