Furloughed government workers protest in Washington DC on Wednesday. (AFP)
Washington, Oct. 2 (Reuters): President Barack Obama scrapped part of a long-planned trip to Asia and planned to meet congressional leaders as a US government shutdown entered a second day with no end in sight.
The impasse has raised questions about Washington’s ability to carry out its most essential duties. Though a short-term shutdown would do relatively little damage to the world’s largest economy, global markets could be roiled if Congress also fails to raise the debt limit before borrowing authority runs out in coming weeks.
The partial shutdown, which took effect at midnight on Monday after Republicans and Democrats were unable to agree on a short-term measure to keep the government operating, has thrown hundreds of thousands of federal employees out of work, shuttered landmarks like the Grand Canyon and prevented some cancer patients from receiving cutting-edge treatment.
The setback to the Asia trip, designed to reinforce US commitment to the region, is the first obvious international consequence of the troubles in Washington.
Obama scuttled two stops on a planned four-country tour and left visits to two other countries up in the air. He was due to leave on Saturday.
The President told his counterparts in Malaysia and the Philippines he would not be able to meet them as planned.
Obama plans to meet at the White House with the four top leaders in Congress — House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
Boehner’s Republicans have sought to tie continued government funding to measures that would undermine Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act — an approach Obama says is a non-starter. The controversial healthcare law passed a key milestone yesterday when it began signing up uninsured Americans for subsidised health coverage.
“We’re pleased the President finally recognises that his refusal to negotiate is indefensible,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.
“It’s unclear why we’d be having this meeting if it’s not meant to be a start to serious talks between the two parties.”
Obama will insist that Congress reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling without conditions, a White House official said. A Senate Democratic aide said the meeting is unlikely to bring any breakthroughs.
The fight between Obama’s Democrats and the Republicans over the government’s borrowing power is rapidly merging with the standoff over everyday funding. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said the United States will exhaust its borrowing authority no later than October 17.