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All federal agencies open their doors

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By The Staff

The government unlocked its doors Thursday after 16 days, with President Barack Obama saluting the resolution of Congress’ bitter standoff but lambasting Republicans for the partial shutdown that he said had damaged the U.S. economy and America’s credibility around the world.

“There are no winners here,” Obama said just hours after signing a last-minute measure from Congress that was free of the Republican demands that had started the standoff. The deal allowed federal workers to return Thursday morning and headed off the threat that the nation would default on its debts, at least for this year.

“The American people are completely fed up with Washington,” Obama said in stern remarks at the White House. The nation’s credit rating was jeopardized, economic growth and hiring were slowed and federal workers were temporarily deprived of paychecks, Obama said, all because of “yet another self-inflicted crisis.”

In hopes of averting another standoff when the just-passed measure runs out, Congress’ four top budget writers met over breakfast to begin new budget talks. Obama urged them to put aside partisan differences and brinkmanship tactics to find common ground.

He also sought to assure governments and investors around the world that the “full faith and credit of the United States remains unquestioned.”

“We’ll bounce back from this,” Obama declared. “We always do.”

The House and Senate voted late Wednesday night to end the shutdown that began when Republicans tried unsuccessfully to use must-pass funding legislation to derail the president’s landmark health care law.

Early Thursday, Obama signed the measure and directed all agencies to reopen promptly. The government unlocked office doors, carried barriers away from national monuments and lifted entrance gates at parks across the country.

The relief felt by furloughed federal employees was tempered by worry that the truce might not last much past the holidays. Congress approved government funding only through Jan. 15.

To head off a default, the package gives the government the authority to borrow what it needs through Feb. 7.

Treasury officials will be able to use bookkeeping maneuvers to delay a potential default for several weeks beyond that date, as they have done in the past. Among the maneuvers, officials can suspend contributions to one of the pension plans used by federal retirees.

In the meantime, lawmakers will try to find agreement on how to replace this year’s across-the-board spending cuts with more orderly deficit reduction.

“I hope this is the end of this,” said Vice President Joe Biden, who greeted workers returning to the Environmental Protection Agency with hugs, handshakes and muffins. But Biden acknowledged, “There’s no guarantees of anything.”

The small group of lawmakers tasked with steering Congress out of three years of budget stalemates and standoffs offered no promises.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the group’s goals were “to get this debt under control, to do smart deficit reduction and to do things that we think will grow the economy and get people back to work.”

“We believe there is common ground,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said after their meeting.

The impasse furloughed about 800,000 workers at its peak, before civilian Defense Department employees were called back. It closed down most of NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department and halted work not considered critical at other agencies.

Democratic members of the New Mexico congressional delegation voted for the legislation and Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) voted against it.

“The good news is that this challenging time for New Mexicans seems to be over,” Pearce said. “The bad news is that the agreement does not end the double standard for Washington, nor does it change our nation’s dangerous course of reckless spending. While I am happy that furloughed employees can go back to work, I will not be able to support tonight’s legislation, which does nothing to address the problems we were elected to solve”

“While I would have preferred legislation that extends the debt limit for a longer period of time and that funds the government at a higher level, this represents a compromise that will finally end the government shutdown that has hurt families in New Mexico and protect the full faith and credit of our nation by ensuring we do not default for the first time in history,” Rep. Ben Ray Lujan said.

Earlier Wednesday evening, the Senate passed legislation that would halt the shutdown.

Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said, “This bipartisan agreement reopens the federal government, averts a default on the nation’s obligations, and allows thousands of New Mexicans to return to work. I’m relieved for the New Mexicans who suffered through this crisis. But the sad truth is that this was all avoidable. New Mexicans paid a heavy price because of the reckless and irresponsible antics of a small faction of Tea Party Republicans who were willing to risk economic calamity to get their way.” Our economy desperately needs long-term stability. I hope that today’s agreement, and the willingness shown by reasonable minds to work together.”

Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said reason finally prevailed in Congress.

“I’m also pleased the agreement includes a provision I fought for that will ensure retroactive pay for federal workers in New Mexico and across the country who were furloughed through no fault of their own.”