US shutdown: Obama cancels Asia stops
02 October 2013, 17:36
Washington - President Barack Obama on Wednesday scrapped
part of a long-planned trip to Asia and left the remainder of the trip in doubt
as a US government shutdown entered a second day with no end in sight to the
funding battle in Congress that triggered it.
Obama scuttled two stops on a planned four-country tour and
left visits to two other countries up in the air, according to White House
The president told his counterparts in Malaysia and the
Philippines he would not be able to meet them as planned and a White House
official said the president is weighing whether to attend diplomatic summits in
Indonesia and Brunei.
"We will continue to evaluate those trips based on how
events develop throughout the course of the week," National Security
Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said.
Obama was originally due to leave the United States on
Saturday and return a week later.
Not only must the president deal with the budget impasse and
its effects, but he faces an even bigger crunch in Congress, which will put the
United States at risk of defaulting on its debts if it does not raise the US
public debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said the United States
will exhaust its borrowing authority no later than 17 October.
The fight between Obama's Democrats and the Republicans over
the government's borrowing power is rapidly merging with the standoff over
every day funding, which has forced the first government shutdown in 17 years
and forced hundreds of thousands of federal employees to take unpaid leave.
The White House announcements about the Asia trip followed a
fruitless day on Capitol Hill, with congressional Democrats and Republicans
coming no closer to resolving their differences.
Obama accused Republicans of taking the government hostage
to sabotage his signature healthcare law, the most ambitious U.S. social
program in five decades, passed three years ago.
Republicans in the House of Representatives view the
Affordable Care Act as a dangerous extension of government power, and have
coupled their efforts to undermine it with continued efforts to block
government funding. The Democratic-controlled Senate has repeatedly rejected
The standoff has raised new concerns about Congress's
ability to perform its most basic duties and threatens to hamper a still
fragile economic recovery.
"This is a mess. A royal screw-up," said
Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter of New York.
Landmarks cordoned off
As police cordoned off landmarks such as the Lincoln
Memorial, and government agencies stopped functions ranging from cancer
treatments to trade negotiations, Republicans in the House sought to restore
funding to national parks, veterans' care and the District of Columbia, the
An effort to pass the three bills fell short on Tuesday
evening, but Republicans plan to try again on Wednesday. They are likely to be
defeated by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
"That's important - a park? How about the kids who need
daycare?" said Democratic Representative Sander Levin of Michigan.
"You have to let all the hostages go. Every single one of them."
The setback to the Asia trip, designed to reinforce US commitment
to the region, is the first obvious international consequence of the troubles
"They've shut down the government over an ideological
crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans,"
Obama said on Tuesday.
Republicans said Obama could not complain about the impact
of the shutdown while refusing to negotiate. "The White House position is
unsustainably hypocritical," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House
Speaker John Boehner.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll indicated that 24% of Americans blamed
Republicans, while 19 percent blamed Obama or Democrats. Another 46% said
everyone was to blame.
Veterans pass barricades
Republicans said their latest proposal would help elderly veterans
who on Tuesday pushed past barricades at the National World War Two Memorial to
get into the site.
"They're coming here because they want to visit their
memorial, the World War Two memorial. But no, the Obama administration has put
barricades around it," said Republican Representative Mike Simpson of
All three bills won support from a majority of the House,
but fell short of the two-thirds vote needed to pass under special rules that
allow quick action. Republican leaders plan to bring up the bills for a regular
vote on Wednesday. Obama said he would veto the bills if they reached his desk.
The veterans in question got in to the memorial with help
from several Republican lawmakers. But they did not seem interested in taking
"It's just like a bunch of little kids fighting over
candy," said George Atkinson, an 82-year-old veteran of the Korean War.
"The whole group ought to be replaced, top man down."
The selective spending plan appeared to temporarily unite
Republicans, heading off a split between Tea Party conservatives who pushed for
the government funding confrontation and moderates who appear to be losing
stomach for the fight.
Representative Peter King, a New York moderate, estimated
that more than 100 of the chamber's 232 Republicans would back Obama's demand
to restore all government funding without conditions. That would be enough to
easily pass the House with the support of the chamber's 200 Democrats.
The shutdown closed landmarks including access to the Grand
Canyon and pared the government's spy agencies by 70 percent. In Washington,
the National Zoo shut off a popular "panda cam" that allowed visitors
to view its newborn panda cub online. In Pennsylvania, white supremacists had
to cancel a planned rally at Gettysburg National Military Park.
Stock investors appeared to take the news in stride on
Tuesday, with investors confident a deal could be reached quickly. The S&P
500 closed up 0.8% and the Nasdaq Composite gained 1.2%.
But the US Treasury was forced to pay the highest interest
rate in about 10 months on its short-term debt as many investors avoided bonds
that would be due later this month, when the government is due to exhaust its
A week-long shutdown would slow US 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
The last shutdown in 1995 and 1996 cost taxpayers $1.4bn,
according to congressional researchers.
The political crisis has raised fresh concern about whether
Congress can meet a mid-October deadline to raise the government's $16.7
trillion debt ceiling. Some Republicans see that vote as another opportunity to
undercut Obama's healthcare law.
Failure to raise the debt limit would force the United
States to default on its obligations, dealing a blow to the economy and sending
shockwaves around global markets.
A 2011 standoff over the debt ceiling hammered consumer
confidence and prompted a first-ever downgrade of the United States' credit
Analysts say this time it could be worse. Lawmakers back
then were fighting over how best to reduce trillion-dollar budget deficits, but
this time they are at loggerheads over an issue that does not lend itself to
compromise as easily: an expansion of government-supported health benefits to
millions of uninsured Americans.
Republicans have voted more than 40 times to repeal or delay
"Obamacare," but they failed to block the launch of its online
insurance marketplaces on Tuesday. The programme had a rocky start as government
websites struggled to cope with heavy online traffic.
"What I'm hearing from my constituents at home is if
this is the only way to stop the runaway train called the federal government,
then we're willing to try it," said Texas Senator John Cornyn, the
second-ranking Republican in the Senate.