Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress remain deadlocked Friday on the fourth day of a partial government shutdown triggered by their failure to agree on a spending bill.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and other House Republicans demanded Friday that Democrats sit down and negotiate a solution to the shutdown.
"This isn't some damn game. The American people don't want their government shut down and neither do I. All we're asking for is to sit down and have a discussion and to bring fairness, reopen the government and bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare."
The government closed Tuesday after the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-led Senate could not agree on a budget. The Republicans' desire to change U.S. President Barack Obama's signature health care law has stalled a short-term, normally routine spending bill.
The shutdown has furloughed more than 800,000 government workers, about a third of the federal work force.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow told a news conference Friday the shutdown has hurt the ability of the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration to perform their jobs. She and other Senate Democrats slammed the shutdown, which they blame on Republicans, for hurting Americans' health and safety.
Stabenow, Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, and chairman of the Senate health committee Tom Harkin said the government could re-open immediately if Boehner allows the House to vote on a spending bill that does not include changes to the health care program. All three senators criticized House Republicans' attempts at a "piecemeal" approach to ending the shutdown, saying the entire government needs to be re-opened, not just some agencies in some places.
Federal workers classified as essential employees, such as air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents and many food inspectors continue to work, as do many in the U.S. broadcasting services, including VOA.
But the partial government shutdown is taking a toll.
The White House announced late Thursday that President Obama had decided to cancel his upcoming visits to Indonesia and Brunei in the face of the shutdown. He had originally been scheduled for a four-nation, week-long trip to Asia, but canceled visits to Malaysia and the Philippines earlier this week because of the budget standoff with Republicans.
The White House said the president is determined to continue pressuring Republicans to allow a vote on a clean spending bill.
"There will be no negotiations over this. The American people are not pawns in some political game. You do not get to demand some ransom in exchange for keeping the government running. You do not get to demand ransom in exchange for keeping the economy running. You don't get to demand ransom for doing your most basic job."
The White House says Secretary of State John Kerry will lead U.S. delegations to Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. Kerry will attend the APEC summit in Bali in place of the president.
Earlier Thursday, President Obama said a simple bill to fund the government with no other issues attached -- including his signature health care plan, nicknamed "Obamacare" -- would pass the House of Representatives. Mr. Obama accused Republican House Speaker Boehner of catering to a small group of what he called conservative, Republican extremists who want to defund or delay the health care plan.
But House Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, blame the president and Democrats for refusing to negotiate or pass any bills to reopen parts of the government while the two sides work out their differences.
"Now the president continues to refuse to sit down with us Republicans, and sadly, that is a hallmark of his presidency."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told CNN television Thursday that it was House Speaker Boehner who reneged on a promise to allow a vote on a clean funding bill, even after Democrats agreed to accept Republican spending levels.
With the shutdown prompting Mr. Obama to cancel his Asia trip, he will be missing the second APEC summit in a row. VOA White House correspondent Dan Robinson reports this might raise doubts about the U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific region.
"As you know, President Obama was not able to go to the APEC summit in Vladivostok last year because of the U.S. presidential election campaign. This is bound to raise further questions in Asia among those who are questioning U.S. commitment not only to the strategic pivot but to the whole regional focus or rebalancing of U.S. economic interests in the region."