— With the federal government partially shut down amid vociferous debate in Congress over the health care reform law, President Barack Obama said Republicans are holding Americans and the U.S. economy hostage for ideological reasons.
The first full day of shutdown coincided with the launch of new online exchanges that millions of uninsured Americans can use to purchase plans under the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans want the health care law to be defunded or parts of it delayed. They have linked these demands to legislation that would fund government operations.
In the Oval Office, Obama met with citizens who have purchased or plan to buy insurance. Afterwards, they went with him to the Rose Garden where he accused Republicans of holding the government and the economy hostage.
"Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to fund the government unless we defunded or dismantled the Affordable Care Act," he said. "They have shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job."
Under Obamacare, companies cannot deny coverage based on a pre-existing medical condition, or impose lifetime coverage limits.
Starting in 2014, most Americans must have health insurance or pay a fine, and have until March to sign up for insurance plans.
The White House delayed online enrollment for small businesses until November, and postponed by a year a requirement for large employers to offer insurance to employees or pay a fine.
Obama acknowledged glitches in the rollout of the health care sign up process, including slowness of online exchanges, as millions of people accessed web sites.
Saying the longer the government shutdown continues the worse the effects for a recovering economy, he said he remains open to negotiation about ways to improve the health care law, but not open to dismantling it.
"I will work with anybody who has got a serious idea to make the Affordable Care Act work better, I have said that repeatedly, but as long as I am president I will not give in to reckless demands by some in the Republican party to deny affordable health insurance to millions of hardworking Americans," he said.
But political stalemate continued on Capitol Hill. After the Senate rejected a House request for negotiations on the matter, Republican Speaker John Boehner expressed disappointment.
"My goodness, they will not even sit down and have a discussion about this," he said.
In addition to the nationwide impacts, the White House is hit by the government shutdown. More than 1,000 staff members are on unpaid leave, as are some 800,000 federal workers.
President Obama is due to depart Saturday on a week-long trip to Asia where he is scheduled to attend the APEC economic summit and other meetings.
Addressing speculation that Obama may be forced to cancel the trip to remain in Washington to deal with the government shutdown, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama still plans to make the trip.