Prospects for a swift end to the four-day-old partial US government shutdown all but vanished on Friday as lawmakers squabbled into the weekend and increasingly shifted their focus to a mid-month deadline for averting a threatened first-ever default.
The shutdown caused the White House to scrub a presidential trip to Asia, and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics delayed its customary monthly report on joblessness as impacts of the partial shutdown spread.
“This isn’t some damn game,” US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said, as the White House and Democrats held to their position of agreeing to negotiate only after the government is reopened and the US$16.7 trillion debt limit raised.
House Republicans appeared to be shifting their demands, de-emphasizing their previous insistence on defunding the healthcare overhaul in exchange for reopening the government.
Instead, they ramped up calls for cuts in federal benefit programs and future deficits, items that Boehner has said repeatedly will be part of any talks on debt limit legislation.
US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also said the two issues were linked.
“We not only have a shutdown, but we have the full faith and credit of our nation before us in a week or 10 days,” he said.
According to warnings by the administration and Wall Street, failure to raise the debt limit had the potential to destabilize financial markets and inflict harm on the economy quickly.
US Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew has said that unless the US Congress acts, the government will be unable to pay all its debts and will run the risk of default. He has urged lawmakers to act by Oct. 17.
Debt limit bills typically pass first in the House, then move to the US Senate.
So far, neither Boehner nor the rest of the leadership has said when they expect to draft and have a vote on one.
Reid and other Democrats blocked numerous attempts by US Senator Ted Cruz to approve House-passed bills reopening portions of the government. The Texas Republican is a chief architect of the “Defund Obamacare” strategy and met earlier in the week with allies in the House and an aide to US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to confer on strategy.
In a lengthy back-and-forth with Reid and other Democrats, Cruz blamed them and the White House for the impasse and accused them of a “my way or the highway” attitude.
However, US Senator Carl Levin likened the Republican strategy to “smashing a piece of crockery with a hammer, gluing two or three bits back together today, a couple more tomorrow, and two or three more the day after that.”
For all the rhetoric, there was no evident urgency about ending the partial government shutdown before the weekend.
The House approved legislation restoring funds for federal disaster relief on a vote of 247-164, and moved toward a vote to allow the resumption of the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.
Yesterday’s agenda called for passing a bill to assure post-shutdown pay for an estimated 800,000 furloughed federal employees off the job since mid-day on Tuesday, then turning off the lights on the House floor until tomorrow night to allow lawmakers to fly home for two days.
Former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton says the partial government shutdown is emblematic of too many people in politics choosing “scorched earth over common ground.”