By Thomas Ferraro and Caren Bohan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – House Republicans held their ground on Friday in a standoff with President Barack Obama over the U.S. government shutdown, accusing him of intransigence and not caring about the impact of the shutdown, now in its fourth day.
With little sign of compromise on either side, many fear the shutdown, triggered by a dispute over the president’s healthcare reforms, will drag on until bickering politicians tackle the more dire threat of a possible U.S. default later this month.
House Speaker John Boehner speaking after a closed-door meeting with House Republicans, said the House of Representatives would not vote on a “clean” spending bill.
The party has demanded a halt, or at least a delay, in implementing Obama’s healthcare reforms, the signature legislation of his presidency, as a condition of allowing a vote on spending that would allow the government to reopen.
Boehner on Friday also demanded spending cuts in exchange for raising the government’s borrowing limit.
Representative Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia said Boehner had assured fellow Republicans that reports he would soften his stand and rely on Democrats to pass the debt limit increase, which would anger conservative Republicans, were inaccurate.
Republican leaders emerged defiant from the meeting.
Although they reiterated their openness to discussions, they pointed to a Wall Street Journal report in which an unnamed Obama administration official was quoted as saying, “we are winning…It doesn’t really matter to us” how long the shutdown lasts “because what matters is the end result.”
IT’S NOT A GAME
“This isn’t some damn game,” Boehner said at a news conference. “The American people don’t want their government shut down and neither do I.”
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 October 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Parallel to the spending crisis, Congress must raise the nation’s line of credit by October 17 or risk default, and lawmakers expect that to be the flashpoint for a larger clash.
The possibility of the United States defaulting on its financial obligations 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 go along with such an approach, but it allows them to accuse Democrats of working against the interests of veterans, national parks and cancer patients.
Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the House would vote on Saturday on a measure to pay federal workers during the shutdown, which has idled close to a million employees. Democrats demand a broad spending bill be passed.
“PIECEMEAL” FUNDING BILLS
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, as well as providing retroactive pay to federal workers during the shutdown.
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.
“The administration strongly opposes House passage of piecemeal fiscal year 2014 appropriations legislation that restores only very limited activities,” the White House said in a statement on Friday.
The government shutdown and impending debt deadline in the United States kept the dollar near an eight-month low despite signs of a fight back on Friday and drove world shares towards a second week of losses.
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 on Friday, “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.