Even as conservative Republicans vowed not to yield on their Obamacare demands for delay, President Barack Obama announced he would meet with the four top leaders of Congress at the White House on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to reopen the government and raise the U.S. debt ceiling.
Obama will meet at 5:30 p.m. EDT with Republican House Speaker John Boehner, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Boehner's office said the meeting would be the start of serious talks to bridge differences that led to government agencies closing down.
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But tea party-backed House Republicans showed no sign of backing down as the effects of the shutdown rippled across the nation.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a tea party favorite, said there would be no solution until Obama and Democrats who control the Senate agree to discuss problems with the nation's unfolding healthcare overhaul.
"The pigsty that is Washington, D.C., gets mud on a lot of people, and the question is, what are you going to do moving forward?" Chaffetz, R-Utah, said on CBS' "This Morning."
Nearly all of the lawmakers who spoke to Newsmax insisted that, after the House took three votes on continuing resolutions in 10 days, their constituents were rallying to their side in the ongoing duel with the Senate and White House.
"Our emails and calls since the vote last night were running 60-to-40 in favor of our position on Obamacare..." Republican Rep. Todd Rokita of Indiana told a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. "And in recent weeks, I've held 12 town-hall meetings and heard from more than 2,500 Hoosiers. Almost all of them are asking us in Congress to take a stand against a very bad law and against big government."
Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas told Newsmax that "99 out of 100" calls and emails to his office are running in favor of stopping Obamacare.
"That's really impressive when you consider that in our district [east of Houston], we have about 9,000 government employees and their families."
Stockman, who served a term in Congress during the last government shutdown in 1995, said "there is far more desire among House Republicans today to tough it out and stand firm than there was 17 years ago."
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told The New York Times that "we've passed the witching hour of midnight, and the sky didn’t fall, nothing caved in." He said he still believes Republicans can achieve "the end of Obamacare."
"Now the pressure will build on both sides, and the American people will weigh in," he said.
Meanwhile, another financial showdown even more critical to the economy was looming. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told Congress that unless lawmakers act in time, he will run out of money to pay the nation's bills by Oct. 17. Congress must periodically raise the limit on government borrowing to keep U.S. funds flowing, a once-routine matter that has become locked in battles over the federal budget deficit.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking House Democrat, said Democrats would overwhelmingly accept a short-term spending measure to reopen the government and increase the nation's debt limit while other political differences are worked out. "That would be a responsible way to go," Hoyer told CNN.
At issue is the need to pass a temporary funding bill to keep the government open since the start of the new budget year on Tuesday.
Congress has passed 87 temporary funding bills since 1999, virtually all of them without controversy. Now, conservative Republicans have held up the measure in the longshot hope of derailing or delaying Obamacare.
Fed-up Americans took to Facebook and Twitter to call members of Congress "stupid" or "idiots." Some blamed Republicans while others blasted Obama or Democrats "who spend our tax dollars like crack addicts."
Bruce Swedal, a 46-year-old Denver real estate agent, tweeted to Congress members: "You should not be getting paid. In fact, you all should be fired!"
Some 800,000 federal workers deemed nonessential were staying home again Wednesday in the first partial shutdown since the winter of 1995-96.
Across the nation, America roped off its most hallowed symbols: the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, the Statue of Liberty in New York, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, the Washington Monument.
Its natural wonders — the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Smoky Mountains and more — put up "Closed" signs and shooed campers away.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he was getting pleas from businesses that rely on tourists. "The restaurants, the hotels, the grocery stores, the gasoline stations, they're all very devastated with the closing of the parks," he said.
The Defense Department said it wasn't clear that service academies would be able to participate in sports, putting Saturday's Army vs. Boston College and Air Force vs. Navy football games on hold, with a decision to be made Thursday.
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The most obvious ways out of the government shutdown crisis are nonstarters, according to Politico. Democrats want to see the House pass a "clean" continuing resolution that makes no reference to Obamacare. Republicans — including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah — propose funding the government piecemeal to take the sting out the shutdown. Lee would pass agency-by-agency temporary budgets, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
This tactic would fund national parks, veterans benefits and the local D.C. government, ostensibly embarrassing Democrats into voting up and down on programs popular among their constituents, The Washington Post reported.
The piecemeal funding idea doesn't sit well with some conservatives. Andrew Stiles, blogging in National Review, wonders: "Did Mike Lee Just Cave?"
Both sides may be using the words "compromise" and "middle ground," but what they apparently have in mind is continued political warfare without incurring the wrath of the American people.
Liberals, meanwhile, are denigrating the very notion that a middle ground exists. Columnist William Saletan complains in Slate that Republicans were "planting the assumption that the reasonable, moderate, even-handed thing to do is to 'negotiate' a 'compromise'" on Obamacare. Not a chance, says Saletan: "Nothing in the Constitution authorizes a single house of Congress to retroactively veto U.S. law by refusing to fund the rest of the government."
Liberal blogger Eric Boehlert in Media Matters is no less strident: "Middle ground? Doesn't it seem [that] the Republican strategy is designed specifically so there is no middle-ground option for Obama to take, making compromise impossible?"
None of this is keeping politicians and political operatives from making noises about supposed give and take from both sides. Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Democrat, told oregonlive.com that he wants to find a "middle ground" and is willing to forgo his salary until one is achieved. Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican, who opposed the shutdown strategy, says "compromise" requires delaying implementation of Obamacare, the Houston CBS affiliate reported. And Tea Party Express strategist Sal Russo told McClatchy, "We have to find some middle ground to postpone the [Obamacare's] individual mandate."
The sheer absence of a middle-ground possibility is riling citizens across the political spectrum. In Claremont, Vt., Abbie Williams, who describes herself as a staunch Republican conservative, told The Valley News that she was angry about the GOP's shutdown strategy. Yet she, too, couldn't identify any middle ground.
"You can't get blood from a rock," she said. "We can't be instituting this socialist type of healthcare program when we don't have the funds to support it, and not only that, the vast majority of Americans don't want Obamacare."
No "easy solution" is how Bloomberg chief Washington correspondent Peter Cook describes the situation. He thinks the shutdown could run on for at least two weeks — smack into the Oct 17 deadline when the country exhausts its borrowing authority.
Says Cook: There is no "easy compromise."
Ironically, as Politico noted, while the government is partially shutdown, the funding to implement Obamacare is mandatory and continuing. Health insurance exchanges that are at the core of President Barack Obama's healthcare law were up and running, taking applications for coverage that would start Jan. 1.
"Shutting down our government doesn't accomplish their stated goal," Obama said of his Republican opponents at a Rose Garden event hailing implementation of the law. "The Affordable Care Act is a law that passed the House; it passed the Senate. The Supreme Court ruled it constitutional. It was a central issue in last year's election. It is settled, and it is here to stay. And because of its funding sources, it's not impacted by a government shutdown."
GOP leaders faulted the Senate for killing a House request to open official negotiations on the temporary spending bill. Senate Democrats led by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada insist that Republicans give in and pass their simple, straightforward temporary funding bill, known as a continuing resolution.
"None of us want to be in a shutdown. And we're here to say to the Senate Democrats, 'Come and talk to us,'" House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said as GOP lawmakers designated to negotiate the shutdown legislation met among themselves before cameras and reporters on Tuesday. "At each and every turn, the Senate Democrats refused to even discuss these proposals."
Since the GOP piecemeal measures were brought before the House under expedited procedures requiring a two-thirds vote to pass, House Democrats scuttled them, despite an impassioned plea by Democratic D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who recalled that in the last shutdown 17 years ago she prevailed on House Speaker Newt Gingrich to win an exemption to keep the D.C. government running.
"I must support this piecemeal approach," Norton said. "What would you do if your local budget was here?"
But other Democrats said Republicans shouldn't be permitted to choose which agencies should open and which remain shut.
"This piecemeal approach will only prolong a shutdown," Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said.
Republicans said there could be more votes Wednesday, perhaps to allow the National Institutes of Health to continue pediatric cancer research. The NIH's famed 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. Patients already at the hospital are permitted to stay.
Republicans also said the House may vote anew on the three measures that failed Tuesday, this time under normal rules requiring a simple majority to pass.
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 encompass the measure to increase the debt limit. "This is now all together," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.
"It's untenable not to negotiate," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said. "I've always believed it was the debt limit that would be the forcing action."
While GOP leaders seemed determined to press on, some Republicans conceded they might bear the brunt of any public anger over the shutdown — and seemed resigned to an eventual surrender in their latest bruising struggle with Obama.
Democrats have "all the leverage and we've got none," Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said.
Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia said it was time to pass legislation reopening the government without any health care impediments.
"The shutdown is hurting my district — including the military and the hardworking men and women who have been furloughed due to the defense sequester," he said.
But that was far from the majority view among House Republicans, where tea party-aligned lawmakers prevailed more than a week ago on a reluctant leadership to link federal funding legislation to the health care law. In fact, some conservatives fretted the GOP had already given in too much.
"It’s getting better for us," said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, told The New York Times. "The moment where Republicans are least popular is right when the government shuts down. But when the president continues to say he's unwilling to negotiate with the American people, when Harry Reid says he won't even take things to conference, I don't think the American people are going to take that too kindly."
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