Ninety-four percent of EPA workers were furloughed during the 16-day partial government shutdown, bringing the agency's operations to a standstill. The employees entering the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building, which stands outside a Federal Triangle Metro station exit, also received a memo from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy reminding them that all government travel is canceled through Oct. 20, and they should turn off their "out of office" phone and e-mail messages.
Biden, who brought high-end "Coffee Cake Bites” that were apparently baked from scratch and free of trans fats, alternated between light banter and serious political talk during his visit.
“I brought some muffins!” the vice president said as he arrived at the security desk, putting the muffins down. Seeing a sign on the desk that read that “All visitors must be escorted at all times,” he declared, “I’d like to be escorted!”
At one point McCarthy began offering the breakfast treats to her employees, asking “Would you like a muffin? The vice president brought some muffins."
Biden, seeing how long the line of employees was, expressed concern: “I didn’t bring enough muffins!”
When one woman arrived wheeling a small suitcase, the vice president asked her, “Is that all the work that piled up?”
“Yes it is," she replied. "I was very tempted to do it."
Biden told the reporters accompanying him that the temporary freeze had taken a toll on both the EPA's workforce ("168,000 people laid off") and the nation's environment ("no inspections on water and air and the Everglades").
"These guys not only took a hit and weren't sure -- I mean, the anxiety of knowing whether they'd get back or paid," Biden said. "But now they're back, and they've got all that work piled up, so they've got a lot to do, so I'm not going to hold them up very long."
When asked whether the federal workforce would face the same situation again when the new continuing resolution expires in January, the vice president said it will be up to Congress.
"There's no guarantees of anything. But I think, look, what you saw last night is Democrats and a significant number of responsible Republicans saying, 'Enough,' " Biden replied. "There was no economic rationale for any of this. Budgets are supposed to be fought over economic issues. There was no economic rationale for this at all. And I hope, I hope everybody walks away with a lesson that this is unnecessary, and I hope we can regain the trust of the American people."
Another budget standoff, Biden warned, would further weaken the country's international standing.
"Look, you know, Madeleine Albright used that phrase, 'the indispensable nation.' Economically we are the indispensable nation. We are the indispensable nation," he said. "And even for a moment putting our full faith and credit on the line, it's just not responsible. And I hope this is the end of this."
Biden then promptly returned to shaking hands.