WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama summoned congressional lawmakers to the White House on Wednesday as a partial government shutdown entered a second day with little sign of a breakthrough. Lawmakers from both parties suggested the impasse could last for weeks and grow to encompass a dangerous fight over the U.S. borrowing limit.
The office of the Republican leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner, said he would attend the White House meeting, casting it as a sign the president is ready to start negotiating on Republican demands to extract changes to the new health care law in exchange for funding the government.
Obama has repeatedly said he will not allow Republicans to use the must-have spending bill to derail the health care law, his most significant domestic policy achievement. An Obama adviser said the president will urge the House Republicans to pass a spending bill free of other demands.
Funding for much of the government was cut off Tuesday after a Republican effort to thwart the health care law stalled the short-term, normally routine spending bill.
Public anger mounted as the partial shutdown closed iconic national parks and monuments and disrupted functions from garbage collection in Washington D.C. to medical research. Nearly a third of the federal workforce — 800,000 employees — were forced off the job. People classified as essential employees — such as air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents and most food inspectors — continued to work.
The shutdown also forced Obama to cancel two of his four stops of a long-planned trip to Asia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The White House was re-evaluating the other two stops in Indonesia and Brunei.
The increasingly entrenched standoff — and especially concerns of a looming debt limit crisis — rattled stock markets that had largely shrugged off the shutdown on its first day. Wall Street opened lower Tuesday and stock indexes fell in Germany and France.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, were also to attend the White House meeting.
We're pleased the president finally recognizes that his refusal to negotiate is indefensible," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said. "It's unclear why we'd be having this meeting if it's not meant to be a start to serious talks between the two parties."
But some Republicans appeared ready to agree to Obama's demand for a straightforward spending bill with no strings attached.
The budget dispute has divided the Republican Party. A core of conservative activists have led a passionate charge against the 2010 health care law, arguing it is hurting jobs and restricting freedom by requiring Americans to have health insurance. But other Republicans fear the party will be blamed for the shutdown and face the consequences in next year's congressional elections.
Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, charged Wednesday that House members aligned with the small-government tea party movement are trying to "hijack the party."
King said he senses that increasing numbers of House Republicans — perhaps as many as a hundred — are tired of the shutdown. He told MSNBC that Republican lawmakers will be in meetings Wednesday to look for a way out.
Obama also planned Wednesday to host chief executives of the nation's 19 largest financial firms, trying to highlight big business opposition to the shutdown. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce had sent a letter to Congress urging no shutdown and warning against a debt ceiling crisis that they say could lead to a disastrous default.
House Republican leader and tea-party backed members seemed determined to press on. The House leadership announced plans to pass five bills to reopen more popular parts of the government, including national parks, processing of veterans' claims and government of Washington, D.C.
The White House immediately promised a veto, saying opening the government on a piecemeal basis is unacceptable.
Across the nation, America roped off its most hallowed symbols, from the Statue of Liberty in New York to the Washington Monument, and shooed campers away from the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders. The far-flung effects reached France, where tourists were barred from the U.S. cemetery overlooking the D-Day beaches at Normandy.
With the shutdown ruining vacations and sapping tourism business, Americans inundated social media to vent their frustration. "You should not be getting paid. In fact, you all should be fired!" Bruce Swedal, a 46-year-old Denver real estate agent, tweeted to Congress members.
Unaffected by the shutdown, a key part of the health plan took effect Tuesday. Health insurance exchanges opened online across the country to take applications for coverage that would start Jan. 1. The new law is intended to extend coverage to the millions of Americans now uninsured.
House Republicans considered a vote to allow the National Institutes of Health to continue pediatric cancer research. The NIH's hospital of last resort wasn't admitting new patients because of the shutdown. Dr. Francis Collins, agency director, estimated that each week the shutdown lasts would force the facility to turn away about 200 patients, 30 of them children, who want to enroll in studies of experimental treatments.
Republicans hoped such votes would create pressure on Democrats to drop their insistence that they won't negotiate on the spending bill or an even more important subsequent measure, required in a couple of weeks or so, to increase the government's borrowing limit.
There were suggestions from leaders in both parties that the shutdown could last for weeks and grow to include the measure to increase the debt limit.
"This is now all together," said Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican House Budget Committee Chairman, added: "I've always believed it was the debt limit that would be the forcing action."
The U.S. risks a market-rattling, first-ever default on its obligations if Congress fails to raise the limit.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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