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Obama Says He Expects Congress Will Increase US Borrowing Limit

U.S. President Barack Obama says he does not think Congress will breach a mid-October deadline to increase the country's borrowing limit so the United States does not default on its financial obligations.

With the U.S. government in the fifth day of a partial shutdown, it also faces running out of money to pay its bills on October 17, including interest on government bonds held by China, Japan and other overseas investors.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press released Saturday, Mr. Obama said he expects Congress will increase the country's $16.7 trillion debt ceiling so the United States can borrow more money.

Mr. Obama, a Democrat in his fifth year as the American leader, is locked in a political stalemate with Republican opponents in Congress over government spending policies and implementation of his signature legislative achievement, wide-ranging health care changes that are now taking effect.

The president said he is willing to negotiate changes to the health law and reduce spending, but not until Congress agrees to end the shutdown and raises the debt ceiling without conditions. Republicans opposed to the health care reforms, commonly known in the U.S. as Obamacare, are trying to end funding for it, or delay it, and called for negotiations in advance of reopening the government.

About 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed during the shutdown, halting numerous government services.

The U.S., with the world's biggest economy, has never defaulted on its debt, and most analysts do not expect it will this time either. A protracted congressional debate in 2011 over increasing the borrowing limit roiled international financial markets and slowed the U.S. economy, and some fear that could occur again in the next two weeks.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that a prolonged political crisis in Washington could weaken the U.S. globally, although ultimately he said he does not think that will happen.

Kerry said if the partial government shutdown "were prolonged or repeated," people would begin to question the country's ability to "stay the course."

Speaking at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (at Nusa Dua) on the island of Bali in Indonesia, Kerry called the U.S. government shutdown a "momentary episode."

In Washington, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is again set to consider piecemeal funding for individual agencies, but the Democratic-run Senate has rebuffed the effort and called for overall funding legislation to reopen the government.

Mr. Obama tried to highlight the impact on furloughed workers Friday by visiting a local sandwich shop that was offering discounts to out-of-work government employees. Before ordering lunch for himself and Vice President Joe Biden, Mr. Obama urged Speaker John Boehner, leader of the Republican-controlled House, to allow a vote on a bill to reopen the government without conditions.

Until now, Republicans have been unwilling to approve a budget unless it amends or delays the health care changes.

"This shutdown could be over today. We know there are the votes for it in the House of Representatives, and as I said yesterday (Thursday), if Speaker Boehner will simply allow that vote to take place, we can end this shutdown."

Earlier, Boehner and other House Republicans demanded that Democrats negotiate changes in the law, which is now taking full effect.

"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."

Democrats in the House said they will use a parliamentary maneuver to try to force a vote on a funding bill to end the shutdown, but would need some Republican support to carry out the plan. Such a vote could not occur before October 14, three days before the U.S. must increase the borrowing limit.

One analyst, University of Michigan business professor Erik Gordon, told VOA he thinks both Mr. Obama and his Republican opponents will have to compromise on their policy goals if a default is to be avoided.

"I think at the last minute there will be some compromise because neither side can afford to be seen by the public as being intransigent. So the Republicans will have to give up and say, OK, we'll settle for fewer tax cuts than we asked for and the president is going to have to say, I'm going to make some bigger reductions than I said I would make, because neither side can afford to have the blame pinned on them. They will move together and learn to live with each other one more time."

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.

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