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U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, October 1, 2013. (JASON REED/REUTERS)
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, October 1, 2013. (JASON REED/REUTERS)

Obama summons congressional leaders in effort to solve budget impasse Add to ...

Seeking to end the standoff linking Obamacare to funding ongoing government operations, President Barack Obama called key congressional leaders for an urgent meeting Wednesday afternoon at the White House.

Republicans quickly suggested the offer was a signal the president is willing to back down.

“We’re pleased the president finally recognizes that his refusal to negotiate is indefensible,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who leads the party in the House of Representatives.

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Also invited were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and the Democrat leader in the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi of California.

But the White House showed no willingness to back down on Democrat insistence that there will be no deals on Obamacare or anything else until Republicans agree to a simple, unencumbered continuing resolution that will provide funding for ongoing government operations.

“Instead of opening up a few government functions, the House of Representatives should re-open all of the government,” the White House said in an policy statement.

Mr. Obama has already cut two days and two countries from an Asian trip planned for next week as Democrats and Republicans dig in for what may be weeks of bitter trench warfare over Obamacare, funding government operations and raising the nation’s line of credit.

Meanwhile, nearly 1 million public employees had no jobs to go to Wednesday and no paycheques due after the next one.

One grim scenario is that the crisis will last weeks and and then be combined with the looming fight over a mid-October deadline to raise the government’s $16.7-trillion debt ceiling. Some Republicans regard that financial cliff as another opportunity to push Obamacare over the brink.

The U.S. government shutdown is now into its second day with few prospects of an early settlement. The full scope of the economic effects won’t be clear for weeks but IHS Global Insight, a market research firm, estimated it would cost $1.6-billion (U.S.) a week in lost economic output. For hundreds of thousands of families across America – park rangers, medical researchers, custodians, civilian employees of the military, the so-called non-essential government workers – the no-pay furlough was starting to bite.

In Washington, the protagonists ramped up the rhetoric, each side blaming the other and claiming they held the high moral ground. Both insisted the shutdown was unnecessary save for the other side’s intransigence.

“This is part of a larger pattern: the president’s scorched-Earth policy of refusing to negotiate in (a) bipartisan way on his health-care law, current government funding or the debt limit,” said Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, the leader of the Republicans who hold sway in the House of Representatives.

In the Rose Garden, hours after museums on the mall shut down and a group of veterans, most of them in their 90s, found the World War II memorial closed behind barricades, President Obama accused Republicans of letting the Tea Party faction create a standoff for narrow political purposes “They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans,” Mr. Obama said.

But Republicans shot back. The veterans came “to visit their memorial, the World War II memorial. But no, the Obama administration has put barricades around it,” said Mike Simpson of Idaho, one of several Republican lawmakers who showed up Tuesday to move the barricades as a piper escorted the elderly visitors.

Political theatre trumped any substantive efforts to end the shutdown.

Republicans, apparently following a scheme hatched by Canadian-born Texas Senator Tom Cruz, a Tea Party darling, offered three small funding bills that would re-open national parks, the Smithsonian museums, some veterans affairs facilities.

Those failed Tuesday night but Republicans in the House of Representatives will try and pass them again Wednesday, daring the Senate Democrats to reject the re-opening of popular and treasured federal attractions like Yosemite and the National Zoo. Two more envelopes were added: federal medical research and pay for military reservists.

Rep. Diane Black, a Tennessee Republican said it was “reckless and shameful that President Obama and House Democrats are putting Obamacare ahead of the interests’ of our nation’s brave veterans, and of school children and families across the country who wish to visit our rich National Parks and museums.”

But Democrats insisted that a complete and unencumbered continuing resolution resuming all government funding was required.

The Pentagon announced that this weekend’s Army, Navy and Air Force academy football games might be scrubbed. Uniformed personnel, at home and deployed overseas, were getting paid.

So were congressmen, senators and the president; all regarded as essential. On Wednesday, the White House announced the president will cut one or two days off an Asian trip to be back in Washington by mid-week.

The Congressional battle shows no signs of easing, even as polls show the overwhelming majority of Americans blame all of the players, but Republicans most of all, for the dysfunction in Washington.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll found 24-per cent of Americans blamed Republicans, while 19 per cent blamed Obama or Democrats. Another 46 per cent said everyone was to blame.

Manoeuvring for political advantage continues but few expect a quick end to the showdown.

Republicans in the House of Representatives are making a last-ditch effort to stymie Obamacare and have repeatedly inserted defunding measures into the bills needed to pay for ongoing government operations. Each time the bill reached the Senate, where the Democrats have a majority, it was quickly killed.

Three more such efforts are expected Wednesday as both sides jockey to portray the other as the party to blame.

A week-long shutdown would slow U.S. economic growth by about 0.3 percentage points, according to Goldman Sachs, but a longer disruption could weigh on the economy more heavily as furloughed workers scale back personal spending.

The last shutdown in 1995 and 1996 cost taxpayers $1.4-billion, according to congressional researchers.

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