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US Government Shutdown Missing Key Negotiations

A furloughed federal worker, who did not wish to be identified, holds out a sign to passing traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2, 2013.
A furloughed federal worker, who did not wish to be identified, holds out a sign to passing traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2, 2013.
VOA News
Unlike recent American financial showdowns, the two-day partial U.S. government shutdown has been marked by a notable absence of high-level negotiations to try to resolve it, although that could be ending.

President Barack Obama has summoned congressional leaders for a late afternoon meeting Wednesday to discuss the stalemate that has left 800,000 government workers furloughed, halted many government services and closed 400 national parks and monuments.

As the United States sought to defuse earlier government funding issues, Obama, a Democrat in the fifth year of his presidency, met regularly with Speaker John Boehner, leader of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. They sought to craft a grand bargain on government spending and taxation, but ultimately were unsuccessful as their supporters balked at various terms they were discussing.

At the end of 2012, however, Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell successfully negotiated a pact to avert widespread tax increases for most American workers, while allowing taxes to increase for some of the country's wealthiest people.

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
This week, however, U.S. political leaders have traded barbs over responsibility for the shutdown, each blaming the other for the first government work stoppage in 17 years.

One presidential scholar, government professor John Gilmour at the College of William and Mary in the mid-Atlantic state of Virginia, said the shutdown has been provoked by Republicans. They are seeking to halt or delay implementation of Obama's signature legislative achievement, the 2010 health care reforms popularly known in the U.S. as Obamacare, in exchange for approving a new spending plan for government agencies. Obama and Democrats are continuing to defend the law.

Gilmour said the two chief U.S. political parties were more polarized than ever, with little political pressure to compromise.

"The Republican party is much more cohesively conservative, and the Democratic party is much more cohesively Democratic, liberal than ever before," he said.

As the shutdown continues, some analysts suggest that the current impasse on government funding, might be combined with another key U.S. financial issue. That is the need to increase the country's $16.7 trillion borrowing limit to keep the U.S. from defaulting on its financial obligations.

Government officials said the U.S. would reach its borrowing limit by October 17. Obama said he would not negotiate over increasing the debt ceiling, because the U.S. needed to borrow more money to pay bills it has already incurred. But Republicans are seeking spending cuts in exchange for increasing the borrowing limit, and are continuing their fight against the health care law.

A U.S. economist, Jim O'Sullivan of High Frequency Economics, said that increasing the debt ceiling was paramount, more important than the immediate dispute over the government shutdown.

"The real, more critical issue ultimately is the debt limit. And certainly there is plenty of precedent for temporary shutdowns and they haven't been that disruptive for the economy in the long run. Of course, we've never not met our obligations.... And I think at the end of the day, they're not that irresponsible. The debt limit will be dealt with," he said.

Political scientist Gilmour said the U.S. disputes would not be resolved until public opinion turned against either Obama or the conservative Republicans opposing him.

"What will have to happen to resolve this is that it will have to become clear is that one side is either winning or losing in this. So if public opinion shifts decisively against either President Obama or against the House Republicans, then that would help to resolve this, and bring an end to the shutdown. But before that happens, I don't see the shutdown ending," he said.

The government professor said he thought Republicans would "eventually have to back down." But Gilmour said he did not see that happening until the government faced possible cuts in pensions to older Americans because it did not have enough money to make the regular monthly payments. He said that point could be reached later in October.

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