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US Congressional Leaders, President to Meet on Government Shutdown

From left, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Budget Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announce that President Barack Obama has invited the top leaders in Congress to meet with him at the White Ho
From left, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Budget Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announce that President Barack Obama has invited the top leaders in Congress to meet with him at the White Ho
Cindy Saine
— The White House has announced that the top four Republican and Democratic congressional leaders are going to the White House late Wednesday afternoon to meet with President Barack Obama to try to resolve a political stalemate that has shut down large parts of the U.S. government.

In the first sign of possible progress on the political stalemate that has caused a government shutdown, Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, Republican Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Minority leader Nancy Pelosi are heading to the White House for talks with President Obama. The announcement comes just as some lawmakers and experts were bracing for a possible longer shutdown.

National Parks across the country are still closed, and the Food and Drug Administration has suspended routine monitoring of food and drug imports.

Late Tuesday, the Republican-led House failed to pass three spending measures to fund three specific parts of the government: national parks, veterans' services, and the District of Columbia. House Democrats refused to vote for the individual bills, calling on Republican House Speaker John Boehner to let the House vote on the clean bill passed by the Senate to fund the whole government. Similar votes are expected Wednesday in the House.

How The Shutdown is Affecting Services

  • About 800,000 federal workers furloughed
  • The military's 1.4 million active-duty personnel remain on duty, their paychecks delayed
  • NASA is furloughing almost all its employees
  • Air traffic controllers and screeners staying on the job
  • Federal courts continue to operate
  • Mail deliveries continue since U.S. Postal Service is not funded by tax dollars
  • Most Homeland Security employees continue to work
  • Most veterans' services continue because they are funded in advance
  • National Parks and Smithsonian museums closing
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid made clear he will not pick and choose among which government agencies to reopen. "Speaker Boehner and House Republicans are engaging in silly, empty politician stunts."

House Republicans called on Democratic President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats to sit down and negotiate with them. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Republican, indicated that any discussions likely would include talks over raising the national debt limit.

What Does a U.S. Government Shutdown Mean?

  • Large parts of the federal government need to be funded each year to operate
  • If Congress cannot agree on how to fund them, those parts of the government shut down
  • During a shutdown, federal workers are separated into excepted and non-excepted employees
  • Excepted must continue to work, and will be paid when Congress funds the government again
  • Non-excepted are furloughed and not guaranteed to receive back-pay
  • Parts of the government dealing with national security and public safety and those with independent funding like the Postal Service continue to operate
  • Other parts shut down, including National Parks, the EPA and the processing of visa and passport applications
  • The last government shutdown lasted 21 days and ended on January 6, 1996
"We have a debt limit coming. That debt limit is coming in about two weeks. Most budget agreements in the past have always involved debt limit increases. We think that is the forcing mechanism. That is what we think will be the forcing action to bring the two parties together," said Ryan.

Possible protracted shutdown

Experts say they don't see a quick end to the standoff.

Ron Fournier, of National Journal that covers political news and analysis, said, "Yeah, I can't see it ending this week because the [stock] markets have not gone crazy and the voters are not lighting up the switchboards. The markets have built in Washington dysfunction."

A core group of House Republicans is insisting on tying together measures to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling in an effort to derail the president's signature legislative achievement, the health care law.  

Republicans under fire

Fournier said House Republicans' tactics are unprecedented and dangerous. "There has not been a time when we have had a minority party threaten to undermine the nation's credit and to bring about economic calamity on the country if they don't get their way on a bill that they lost on a couple of years ago," he said.

Political analyst Larry Sabato warned that Republicans may be playing with political fire. "The longer the shutdown goes on, the more likely it is the Republicans are going to pay a big price. Speaker Boehner undoubtedly knows that. The whole leadership in the House knows that. That is why they did not want to go this route, but they embraced it because the activists in their own caucus insisted on it," said Sabato.

Obama also has made clear he would veto any piecemeal measures to fund individual programs or agencies, calling on the House to, as he says, "do its job and pay its bills."

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