US shutdown forces Obama to cancel Asia stops
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. government shutdown forced President Barack Obama on Wednesday to cancel two stops on a long-planned trip to Asia and left federal services in limbo across the country. Lawmakers from both parties suggested the impasse could last for weeks and encompass a potentially more dangerous fight over the country's borrowing limit.
Funding for much of the government was cut off Tuesday after a Republican effort to thwart Obama's health care law stalled a short-term, normally routine spending bill. Republicans pivoted to a strategy to try to reopen the government piecemeal but were unable to immediately advance the idea in the House of Representatives.
The partial shutdown closed iconic national parks and monuments and disrupted services from garbage collection in Washington D.C. to pediatric cancer research at a federal institution. Nearly a third of the federal workforce -- 800,000 employees -- were forced off the job. People classified as essential employees -- such as air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents and most food inspectors -- continued to work.
The increasingly entrenched standoff -- and especially concerns of a looming debt limit crisis -- rattled stock markets that had largely shrugged off the shutdown on its first day. Wall Street opened lower Tuesday and stock indexes fell in Germany and France.
Obama, who is scheduled to leave Saturday night for Asia, called off the final two stops in Malaysia and the Philippines. He will still travel to Indonesia and Brunei.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that personnel were not yet in place in Malaysia and the Philippines and "we were not able to go forward with planning."
Hayden added: "This completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to promote U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership in the largest emerging region in the world."
Republican leaders faulted the Democratic-led Senate for killing a request from the Republican-controlled House request to open official negotiations on the temporary spending bill. Senate Democrats insist that Republicans give in and pass their straightforward funding bill.
Obama planned Wednesday to host chief executives of the nation's 19 largest financial firms, trying to highlight big business opposition to the shutdown. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce had sent a letter to Congress urging no shutdown and warning against a debt ceiling crisis that they say could lead to a disastrous default.
The budget dispute has divided the Republican Party. A core of conservative activists have led a passionate charge against the 2010 health care law, arguing it is hurting jobs and restricting freedom by requiring Americans to have health insurance. But other Republicans fear the party will be blamed for the shutdown and face the consequences in next year's congressional elections.
Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, charged Wednesday that House members aligned with the small-government tea party movement are trying to "hijack the party."
King said he senses that increasing numbers of House Republicans -- perhaps as many as a hundred -- are tired of the shutdown. He told MSNBC that Republican lawmakers will be in meetings Wednesday to look for a way out.
In an opinion piece Wednesday's USA Today House Speaker John Boehner criticized the Democrats for refusing to negotiate and called on them to "change course and start working with us on behalf of the American people."
Late Tuesday, House Republicans sought passage of legislation aimed at reopening small slices of the government, including the national parks. Democrats rejected the idea, saying Republicans shouldn't be permitted to choose which agencies should open and which remain shut.
Unaffected by the shutdown, a key part of the health plan took effect Tuesday. Health insurance exchanges opened online across the country to take applications for coverage that would start Jan. 1. The new law is intended to extend coverage to the millions of Americans now uninsured.
Across the nation, America roped off its most hallowed symbols, from the Statue of Liberty in New York to the Washington Monument, and shooed campers away from the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders. The far-flung effects reached France, where tourists were barred from the U.S. cemetery overlooking the D-Day beaches at Normandy.
With the shutdown ruining vacations and sapping tourism business, Americans inundated social media to vent their frustration. "You should not be getting paid. In fact, you all should be fired!" Bruce Swedal, a 46-year-old Denver real estate agent, tweeted to Congress members.
Republicans said there could be more votes Wednesday, perhaps to allow the National Institutes of Health to continue pediatric cancer research. The NIH's hospital of last resort wasn't admitting new patients because of the shutdown. Dr. Francis Collins, agency director, estimated that each week the shutdown lasts would force the facility to turn away about 200 patients, 30 of them children, who want to enroll in studies of experimental treatments.
Republicans hoped such votes would create pressure on Democrats to drop their insistence that they won't negotiate on the spending bill or an even more important subsequent measure, required in a couple of weeks or so, to increase the government's borrowing limit.
There were suggestions from leaders in both parties that the shutdown could last for weeks and grow to include the measure to increase the debt limit.
"This is now all together," said Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican House Budget Committee Chairman, added: "I've always believed it was the debt limit that would be the forcing action."
The U.S. risks a market-rattling, first-ever default on its obligations if Congress fails to raise the limit.
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