WASHINGTON–A fruitless meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and congressional leaders deepened the impression that the government shutdown could persist into mid-October and become entangled with an even more consequential battle over raising the nation’s borrowing limit to avoid a disastrous debt default.
The shutdown limped into its third day Thursday, keeping hundreds of thousands of federal workers home and affecting Americans in ways large and small. Scores of government programs, from feeding pregnant women to staffing call centers at the federal tax agency, were disrupted. Obama was forced to truncate a long-planned trip to Asia.
Funding for much of the government has been cut off since Tuesday, when a Republican effort to thwart the nation’s new health care law stalled a short-term, normally routine spending bill.
At the White House meeting Wednesday, Obama reiterated his demand that the Republican-controlled House of Representative pass the bill without threatening his health care overhaul.
“The House could act today to reopen the government and stop the harm this shutdown is causing to the economy and families across the country,” the White House said in a written statement after the session. In a jab at the Republican-led chamber, it added, “The president remains hopeful that common sense will prevail.”
Republican leaders criticized the president for refusing to negotiate and insisted on some changes to the health law.
The lack of progress comes as the U.S. is running up against a crucial deadline on raising the borrowing limit. The Obama administration has said Congress must renew the government’s authority to borrow money by Oct. 17 or risk a first-ever federal default, which many economists say would threaten the world economy. Republicans have indicated they could move their campaign against the health care law to the debt fight.
The shutdown itself is estimated to trim only about 0.2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product each week. But that could grow worse if the impasse begins to erode consumer and business confidence.
The mood in the rest of the world was cautious, with European and Asian stock indexes mixed. Europe’s top central banker, Mario Draghi, called the shutdown “a risk if protracted.”
The partial shutdown closed national parks and forced 800,000 employees — nearly a third of the federal workforce — off the job, amid mounting anger from the public.
For two dozen couples, the shutdown meant they may be forced to cancel their October weddings scheduled for closed off monuments in Washington. Prospective home owners applying for mortgages were facing delays because many need government confirmation of their financial data. For American Indian tribes, the effects were more immediate. Programs including health care for the elderly and disabled and bus service for rural areas were suspended indefinitely for Montana’s 13,000-member Crow Tribe.
“We’re already taking calls from people saying, ‘Who’s going to take care of my mom? Who’s going to take care of my dad” said Shar Simpson, who leads the Crow’s home health care program.
People classified as essential employees — such as air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents and most food inspectors — continued to work.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner complained to reporters that Obama said anew that “he will not negotiate.” Boehner made clear that curbing the health care overhaul that Obama pushed into law three years ago remains part of the price for returning federal workers to their jobs.