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Obama warns 'extreme' Republicans on health law

17 September 2013, 20:36

Washington - President Barack Obama, facing a potential federal shutdown, warned congressional Republicans they could trigger national "economic chaos" if they demand a delay of his signature health care law as the price for supporting continued spending for federal operations.

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives were to meet on Tuesday in hopes of finding a formula that would avoid a shutdown on 1 October without alienating party conservatives who insist on votes to undercut the health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act.

Even more daunting is a mid- to late-October deadline for raising the nation's borrowing limit, which some Republicans also want to use as leverage against the Obama administration.

"Are some of these folks really so beholden to one extreme wing of their party that they're willing to tank the entire economy just because they can't get their way on this issue?" Obama said in a speech at the White House. "Are they really willing to hurt people just to score political points?"

The Republicans don't see it that way.

House Speaker John Boehner, who opposes the threat of a shutdown, said, "It's a shame that the president could not manage to rise above partisanship today."

Obama, said Boehner, "should be working in a bipartisan way to address America's spending problem, the way presidents of both parties have done before," and should delay implementation of the health care law.

Public scepticism

Some conservatives supported by the small-government tea party movement have been making shutdown threats. But one such conservative, Senator Rand Paul, said on Monday that was "a dumb idea".

"We should fight for what we believe in and then maybe we find something in between the two," he said. "I don't want to shut the government down, though. I think that's a bad solution."

Obama timed his remarks for the fifth anniversary of the bankruptcy of Wall Street giant Lehman Brothers, a major early event in the near-meltdown of the US financial system and a severe global recession. He used the occasion to draw attention to the still-recovering economy and to what he called a "safer" system now in place.

His remarks came amid public scepticism over the state of the economy and his handling of it.

While unemployment has dropped to 7.3% from a high of 10% and the housing market has begun to recover, the share of long-term unemployed workers is double what it was before the recession, and a homebuilding revival has yet to take hold.

A new analysis conducted for The Associated Press shows that the gap in employment rates between America's highest- and lowest-income families has stretched to its widest level since officials began tracking the data a decade ago.

Obama conceded the problems, noting that the country has come far from where it was five years ago but "we are not yet where we need to be".

‘Defund Obamacare’

The president said that he inherited the financial ills when he was elected in 2008, and his National Economic Council issued a report detailing policies that it said had helped return the nation to a path toward growth.

Those steps ranged from the unpopular Troubled Asset Relief Program, or Tarp, that shored up the financial industry and bailed out auto giants General Motors and Chrysler, to an $800bn stimulus bill and sweeping new bank regulations.

Of the $245bn that the government injected into the banking system, virtually all of it has been paid back, the report noted.

"After all the progress that we've made over these last four and a half years, the idea of reversing that progress because of an unwillingness to compromise or because of some ideological agenda is the height of irresponsibility," Obama said.

Conservative Republicans, on the other hand, say the health care law, which has yet to take full effect, will place a burden on businesses and the public and will damage the economy. As a result, they insist that it be starved of taxpayer money or at least delayed.

Obama also reiterated his stance that he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling, saying that failure to raise it could lead to the first national default in US history.

House Republican leaders hope to make a decision this week on advancing a temporary spending measure designed to prevent a shutdown in two weeks. Conservatives are pressing Boehner and other party leaders to include a provision that would block implementation of Obama's health care law.

Chances are fading for a complicated Republican leadership plan that would allow the House to also vote to "defund Obamacare" but automatically separate the measures when delivering them to the Senate to ease the way for quick passage of a "clean" funding measure for delivery to Obama.

The next steps aren't clear, but one option under consideration is to accede to conservatives' demands to deliver to the Democratic Senate a combined bill that pays for government and defunds the health care law.

The Senate would be virtually certain to strip away the attack on the health care law and bounce the funding measure right back to the House.

- AP


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