News / USA

Obama to Congress: American People Not Pawns in Political Game

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the government funding impasse at M. Luis Construction, a local small business in Rockville, Maryland, near Washington, October 3, 2013. Obama travelled to the business to highlight the impacts that a govern
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the government funding impasse at M. Luis Construction, a local small business in Rockville, Maryland, near Washington, October 3, 2013. Obama travelled to the business to highlight the impacts that a govern
VOA News
A partial U.S. government shutdown is in its third day with no end to the deadlock in sight, as Republican leaders in Congress want to defund or delay President Barack Obama's signature health care law as part of the next budget.

Obama said Thursday Congress must end the shutdown that is preventing hundreds of thousands from working and harming thousands of companies that rely on their business.

"There will be no negotiations over this," he said. "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."

Speaking outside Washington, the president said the only reason the shutdown continues is that the Speaker of the House does not want to upset "extremists" in his party by calling a vote on a budget passed by the Senate earlier this week. That budget keeps the health care law intact.

All Democrats and more than 17 Republicans in the House of Representatives say they would sign the Senate so-called "clean bill" if House Speaker John Boehner brought it up for a vote.

"Send the bill to the floor.  Let everybody vote.  It will pass," he said. "Send me the bill. I will sign it. The shutdown will be over and we can get back to the business of governing and helping the American people."

House Republican Tim Huelskamp, from Kansas, told CNN the president was speaking like a "dictator." Huelskamp said that instead of refusing to negotiate, he should work on a solution with Republicans. Huelskamp added the health care law "has everything to with the budget" because it was costing the American people a lot of money.

U.S. congressional leaders met for about an hour late Wednesday with Obama, but emerged from the closed-door session with no progress on the budget impasse that triggered the shutdown.

Wednesday's failed meeting raised fears the government shutdown could persist into mid-October and run up against a crucial deadline for raising the nation's borrowing limit to avoid a debt default.

Congress must renew the government's authority to borrow money by October 17 or risk a first-ever federal default, which many economists say would threaten the world economy.

Funding for much of the government has been cut off since Tuesday, when a Republican effort to force changes to the new health care law stalled a short-term, normally routine spending bill.

The shutdown has furloughed more than 800,000 federal workers, about one third of the federal work force.  People classified as essential employees, such as air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents and most food inspectors, continue to work, as do the U.S. broadcasting services, including VOA.

The White House says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has started recalling furloughed employees to prepare for the potential landfall of Tropical Storm Karen.

Implementation of the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed "Obamacare," went ahead as scheduled Tuesday.  It is intended to provide health insurance coverage to millions of Americans who otherwise cannot afford or get coverage.

Republican opponents of Obamacare say it forces people, including small businesses, to buy expensive insurance policies against their will, hurting the economy.

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