No signs of hope in shutdown impasse
WASHINGTON — House Republicans held their ground on Friday in a standoff with President Barack Obama over the government shutdown, accusing him of intransigence and not caring about the impact on the American people as the crisis dragged into a fourth day.
As Republicans and Democrats remained deadlocked over the shutdown, which was triggered by a dispute over the President’s healthcare reforms, the two sides also dug in over a measure to raise the nation’s borrowing authority. It must be approved by Congress by Oct. 17 to avoid a government default.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner tried to squelch reports that he would ease the way to a debt ceiling increase, stressing that Republicans would continue to insist on budget cuts as a condition of raising the borrowing authority.
“This isn’t some damn game,” said an exasperated Boehner, responding to a Wall Street Journal article that quoted an unnamed White House official saying Democrats were “winning” the shutdown battle.
Obama reiterated that he was willing to negotiate with Republicans, but said, “We can’t do it with a gun held to the head of the American people.”
“There’s no winning when families don’t have certainty over whether they’re going to get paid or not,” Obama told reporters when he paid a visit to a downtown Washington lunch spot that was offering a discount to furloughed workers.
The shutdown began Oct. 1 when the Republican House of Representatives refused to approve a bill funding the government unless it included provisions designed to delay or defund Obama’s healthcare reforms, which are now being implemented.
Obama again appealed to Boehner to bring a “clean” funding bill — without reference to the health reforms — to a vote in the House, where many Democrats believe it could pass with a combination of Democrats and a few of the majority Republicans.
Boehner again declined to do that. A powerful conservative element in his party has insisted there should be no vote unless Obama makes concessions on his healthcare reforms.
Democrats in the House were considering whether they could use a maneuver that would force a vote on legislation to reopen the government immediately, according to a House aide who asked not to be identified.The aide did not provide details. The rarely used and time-consuming “discharge petition” maneuver normally dislodges a bill from a committee and sends it to the House floor if 218 lawmakers sign the petition in the 435-member chamber.White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was “utterly false” to suggest Obama did not want a speedy end to the shutdown. “We want this to end now. Period,” he said.In light of the stalemate, Obama has canceled plans for a visit to a number of Asian countries next week.
The government was obliged to close many of its operations because Congress failed to pass a spending bill by Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
The possibility of the United States defaulting on its financial obligations if there is no agreement to raise the debt ceiling has rattled financial markets around the world amid fears it could derail the fragile economic recovery.
Facing public anger over the government shutdown, the House has adopted a strategy of voting piecemeal to fund publicly some federal agencies — like the Veterans Administration, the National Park Service and the National Institutes of Health — that are partially closed.
Republicans know that neither the Democratic-controlled Senate nor Obama will agree to that approach, but it allows them to accuse Democrats of working against the interests of veterans, national parks and cancer patients.
Democrats demand that a broad spending bill be passed.
House Republicans on Thursday lined up 11 bills to fund targeted programs. They were: nutrition programs for low-income women and their children; a program to secure nuclear weapons and non-proliferation; food and drug safety; intelligence gathering; border patrols; American Indian and Alaska Native health and education programs; weather monitoring; Head Start school programs for the poor and other aid for schools that rely heavily on federal assistance.
With a major storm approaching the Gulf coast, disaster assistance was also slated for temporary renewal under the House measures.
The bills were likely to be debated by the full House in the coming days, though not all at once. The Democratic-controlled Senate says it will reject the measures and Obama has said he would veto them.
Congress was moving to pass legislation, which Obama supports, to retroactively pay federal workers once the government reopens.
The government shutdown and impending debt deadline in the United States kept the dollar near an eight-month low despite signs of a recovery on Friday.
The shutdown and the possible failure to raise the debt ceiling, have prompted a number of warnings from big business.
AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson, addressing a possible default, said in a statement, “It would be the height of irresponsibility for any public official to consider such a course. In fact, even the discussion of default poses great risk to our economy and to our country.”
The government’s September employment report, the most widely watched economic data both on Wall Street and Main Street, had been scheduled for release on Friday but was a casualty of the shutdown.