The Pentagon on Saturday said that it will recall most of its furloughed employees as a US government shutdown continued with no signs of an end to the impasse.
US President Barack Obama used his weekly radio address to demand that Republican lawmakers “end this farce” and approve a budget to reopen the government.
However, Republican leaders said it was the president’s refusal to negotiate that was to blame for the continuing stalemate.
The US government closed all but its essential operations on Tuesday last week when Republican lawmakers refused to approve money for government operations without first delaying or defunding the new healthcare law, commonly known as “Obamacare.”
With public discontent building, the US House of Representatives held a rare Saturday meeting and voted 407 to none to pass a measure to retroactively pay the hundreds of thousands of federal workers forced to stay home during the crisis.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that most of the estimated 400,000 furloughed Pentagon employees will be called back to work this week.
Hagel said Pentagon lawyers had concluded that the law allows employees “whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members” to be exempted from the shutdown.
The moves reflected deepening concern over the impact of the first US federal government shutdown in 17 years, but both sides continued to point fingers at each other.
“Take that vote. Stop this farce. End this shutdown now,” Obama told the Republican-controlled House in his address.
US Representative Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, said the impasse could be worked out, but Obama “seems to be unwilling to sit down and talk with us.”
“It doesn’t make any sense if the president has an axe to grind with the opposing party, why he would want to put the American people in the middle of that,” Cantor said.
There were growing fears that the budget battle focused on Obama’s healthcare law will merge with a related — and potentially more damaging — fight over raising the US debt ceiling.
Obama is refusing to negotiate with Republicans over the budget until they pass a temporary bill to reopen the government and agree to raise the US$16.7 trillion US statutory borrowing limit, without which Washington may default on its debts for the first time starting on Oct. 17.
“For as reckless as a government shutdown is, an economic shutdown that comes with default would be dramatically worse,” Obama said.
The US Senate has already approved a budget and “there are enough Republican and Democratic votes in the House of Representatives willing to do the same, and end this shutdown immediately,” Obama said. “But the far right of the Republican Party won’t let [House] Speaker John Boehner give that bill a yes-or-no vote.”
Obama said he “won’t pay a ransom in exchange for reopening the government and I certainly won’t pay a ransom in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.”
Some rank-and-file Republicans said that ending the shutdown requires a new plan beyond demanding changes to the healthcare law.
“I won’t be happy with that, but I recognize the writing on the wall,” US Representative Doug Lamborn told reporters. “We do have to move on to the larger issues of the debt ceiling and the overall budget.”