Charles Dharapak, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Even as the government reopened its doors, congressional budget negotiators met Thursday and acknowledged that their search for agreements on deficit reduction and spending cuts has no assurance of achieving their goals.
"Talking doesn't guarantee success," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, after he and Congress' three other top budget writers held a breakfast meeting to discuss their upcoming two months of budget talks. "But if you don't get together, obviously you don't move forward."
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the group's goal was "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," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash.
The group met just hours after President Barack Obama signed into law a hard-fought measure ending the partial 16-day government shutdown and avoiding a potential federal default that administration officials had warned could have begun Thursday.
As part of their pact, the two sides agreed to try to reach a budget deal on spending levels and possible deficit reduction, an agreement that has been difficult for the two parties to clinch in the past. The bargainers are to report by Dec. 15.
"We don't want to raise expectations above reality, but I think there's some things we could do," said Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, senior Republican on the Senate budget panel.
The House and Senate passed the legislation 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.
"There was no economic rationale for any of this," Vice President Joe Biden said as he greeted workers returning to the Environmental Protection Agency with hugs, handshakes and muffins. "I hope everybody walks away with a lesson that this is unnecessary and I hope we can regain the trust of the American people."
The agreement doesn't resolve partisan disputes over Washington's budget but funds the government temporarily while lawmakers try to work out a broader deal to cut deficits and ease across-the-board spending cuts. That leaves the possibility of another stalemate in coming weeks.
"I hope this is the end of this," Biden told reporters. But he acknowledged, "There's no guarantees of anything."
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.
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