- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2013

As the 16-day government shutdown ended Thursday, President Obama gave an impassioned defense of big government and accused congressional Republicans of an unpatriotic effort to “break” it.

Virtually seething with frustration at times about the shutdown, Mr. Obama said the federal government plays an essential role in people’s lives and said the interruption of services hurt everyone from seniors to homebuyers to small-business owners.

“We hear all the time about how government is the problem,” the president said at the White House. “Well, it turns out we rely on it in a whole lot of ways. One of the things that I hope all of us have learned these past few weeks is that … smart, effective government is important. It matters.”

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Mr. Obama’s remarks came less than 12 hours after he signed a measure to reopen the government through Jan. 15 and extend the nation’s borrowing limit through Feb. 7. The agreement ended, for now, a bitter battle with congressional Republicans that began as a protest over Obamacare.

Many Republican lawmakers were dispirited by the result, thinking their party got very little out of the acrimonious battle and lost popularity with the public.

“To say we as Republicans left a lot on the table would be one of the biggest understatements in American political history,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, wrote on his Twitter account.

The president said the shutdown episode had damaged U.S. credibility. “It’s encouraged our enemies, it’s emboldened our competitors, and it’s depressed our friends, who look to us for steady leadership,” Mr. Obama said.

One of those friends, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, provided a bit of unintentional embarrassment for the administration when he met with Mr. Obama in the Oval Office on Thursday and thanked the president for “yesterday’s success.” The spectacle of debt-ridden Italy praising the U.S. for averting default likely wasn’t the image that the administration wanted to project.

“Because yesterday’s decision was very important for the stability of the markets in the world, in Europe … We need stability because we have such a big debt, so we need to have low interest rates,” Mr. Letta said.

While the president and his top aides were not gloating in public about the turn of events in Congress, Mr. Obama clearly conveyed his belief that he now has the upper hand in future fiscal negotiation with the GOP. He chastised tea-party Republicans for, he charged, deliberately trying to wreck the federal government and allowing their hatred of him to justify un-American tactics.

“If you don’t like a particular policy, or a particular president, then argue for your position,” Mr. Obama said in the State Dining Room before an audience of aides. “Go out there and win an election. Push to change it, but don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country’s about.”

He gave a lengthy defense of a robust federal government, lecturing Republicans on the various benefits it provides to society.

“Not only does it keep us strong through our military and our law enforcement, it plays a vital role in caring for our seniors and our veterans, educating our kids, making sure our workers are trained for the jobs that are being created, arming our businesses with the best science and technology so they can compete with companies from other countries,” Mr. Obama said.

He added, “It plays a key role in keeping our food and our toys and our workplaces safe. It helps folks rebuild after a storm. It conserves our natural resources. It finances startups. It helps to sell our products overseas. It provides security to our diplomats abroad.”

The president implored the Republicans “to make government work better instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse.”

Mr. Obama said there were “no winners” in the stalemate, and his anger reached its peak when he talked about the partisanship that he once pledged to tame.

“Now that the government has reopened and this threat to our economy is removed, all of us need to stop focusing on the lobbyists, and the bloggers, and the talking heads on radio and the professional activists who profit from conflict, and focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do,” he said. Turning to his legislative priorities, Mr. Obama said lawmakers also should work to “finish the job of fixing our broken immigration system.” The Senate has approved comprehensive immigration reform, but the Republican-led House has not.

“A majority of Americans think this is the right thing to do, and it’s sitting there, waiting for the House to pass it,” Mr. Obama said. “This can and should get done by the end of this year.”

He also urged Congress to complete a farm bill by the end of the year. Mr. Obama said these tasks can be completed “if our focus is on the American people.”

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