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Goverment reopens after congress ends 16-day shutdown

Associated Press | 10/17/2013, 10:10 a.m. | Updated on 10/17/2013, 10:10 a.m.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The government reopened its doors Thursday after a battle-weary Congress approved a bipartisan measure to end a ...
President Barack Obama walks out to make a statement to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. The Senate voted to avoid a financial default and reopen the government after a 16-day partial shutdown and the measure now heads to the House, which is expected to back the bill before day's end. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government reopened its doors Thursday 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 U.S. obligations.

Early Thursday, President Barack Obama signed the measure, which the House and Senate passed late Wednesday, 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.

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 Thursday.

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 early Thursday 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 Thursday and the National Zoo in Washington on Friday.

Standard & Poor's estimated the shutdown has taken $24 billion out of the economy, and the Fitch credit rating agency warned Tuesday that it was reviewing its AAA rating on U.S. 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.

Yet Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said the American people clearly disapprove of how Republicans, and also Democrats and the president, handled the budget gridlock.

"Hopefully, the lesson is to stop this foolish childishness," McCain said Thursday on CNN.

The shutdown sent GOP approval ratings numbers reeling in public opinion polls and exasperated veteran lawmakers who saw it and the possibility of default as folly.

"After two long weeks, it is time to end this government shutdown. It's time to take the threat of default off the table," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said before the vote. "It's time to restore some sanity to this place."

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.

McConnell is up for re-election next year, and his tea party primary opponent issued a statement blasting his role.