Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., front, and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., rear, emerge from an initial meeting of the bipartisan budget conferees from both houses of Congress, in the Senate Reception Room at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013. With last-minute legislation passed in Congress that reopened the government and averted a national default, the conferees outlined their approach to tackling the nation?s debt problems. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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. The popular panda cam went back online at the National Zoo, and federal employees everywhere streamed back to work.
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 out enemies. It's emboldened our competitors. And it's depressed our friends who look to us for steady leadership," he said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said during the day that the Heritage Foundation is in danger of losing its clout as a reliable conservative think tank because of the actions of its political arm, Heritage Action.
In an interview on MSNBC, he said, "There's a real question in the minds of many Republicans now. ... Is Heritage going to go so political that it really doesn't amount to anything anymore?"
Heritage Action played an influential role in the two-week political showdown. In the days leading to the impasse, it was a strong backer of the campaign to demand that "Obamacare" be defunded in exchange for Republican approval of funding for the government.
And on Tuesday, as it was hosting a fundraiser at a high-end golf resort in Bandon, Ore., the group weighed in to oppose legislation that House Speaker John Boehner put together in hopes of retaining influence in the final negotiations over the impasse in Washington.
Yet another group, Americans for Limited Government, assailed Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., who voted for the legislation that reopened the government and raised the debt limit. Noting that the measure had not defunded the health care law, the group said the congressman "owns Obamacare just as much as if it had been a vote to adopt it in the first place."
In a statement issued on Wednesday in connection with his vote, Rigell said he was voting for the bill "given the lack of a viable alternative at this moment."
Other 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."
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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."
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this story.