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President Obama summons congressional leaders to discuss shutdown stalemate

October 2, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
President Barack Obama called leaders of the House and Senate to the White House to discuss the stalemate keeping the government shutdown. House GOP members forged ahead with various bills to re-open parts of the government, but Democrats dismissed that approach. Congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Our lead story tonight: the nation’s Political leaders convened for a late-day meeting at the White House, but there was no sign of a deal to get government operations back on track.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

KWAME HOLMAN: With signs of the shutdown evident everywhere, the president called in the House and Senate leaders to talk over the stalemate. Going in, Republicans said they assume he’s ready to negotiate. but in an interview with CNBC before the meeting, the president insisted that, first, Congress has to pass a bill to fund the government, with no strings attached.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Until we get that done, until we make sure that Congress allows Treasury to pay for things that Congress itself already authorized, we are not going to engage in a series of negotiations.

KWAME HOLMAN: Here at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, House Republicans forged ahead with five separate spending bills designed to reopen parts of the government, despite warnings Senate Democrats would reject them. The list included national parks, veterans programs, funding for the local D.C. government, medical research, and salaries for members of the National Guard.

Outside the Capitol, protesters greeted House GOP leaders as they held a news conference. But Majority Leader Eric Cantor said they mean to keep up their strategy.

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REP. ERIC CANTOR, R-Va.: We ought to be working as hard as we can to open up the government in all the areas that we agree on. No one disagrees that these memorials should be open. No one — no one disagrees that we should be helping our veterans and the kinds of services that they need.

KWAME HOLMAN: Inside, on the House floor, Democrats, including California’s Barbara Lee, dismissed that approach.

REP. BARBARA LEE, D-Calif.: Instead of working on a serious option to reopen the government, Republicans’ latest strategy now — and this is really cynical — that’s to exploit our veterans and to exploit the people of the District of Columbia by voting on piecemeal bills that will not end impacts of a shutdown that extend across the country.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, in the Senate, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid telephoned House Speaker John Boehner, appealing for a vote on a government funding bill free of provisions aimed at the president’s health care law.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: He’s sitting on a bill that would reopen the government right now. This bill would pass in a matter of minutes, if he just let Democrats and Republicans vote.

KWAME HOLMAN: If that happens, Reid promised, the Senate will negotiate a long-term budget deal. A spokesman for Boehner brushed aside the pitch, calling it not much of an offer.

Amid the sparring, national parks and major monuments were shuttered for a second day. A number of social services also were cut off, including Head Start programs for low-income children and nutritional food programs, such as WIC, for women with infant children.

Douglas Greenaway is head of the National WIC Association, based in Washington.

DOUGLAS GREENAWAY, National WIC Association: With the government shutdown, there’s a level of uncertainty that not only program administrators are experiencing, but certainly the women who participate in the program. And that’s a level of uncertainty that they don’t need in their lives. Their lives are already challenged enough.

KWAME HOLMAN: The National Institutes of Health, meanwhile, turned away patients seeking to enroll in experimental treatments. And there were warnings at a Senate hearing about national security from James Clapper, director of national intelligence.

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER, retired National Intelligence Director: On top of the sequestration cuts that we’re already taking, that this seriously damages our ability to protect the safety and security of this nation and its citizens.

KWAME HOLMAN: With no end in sight, the odds also were growing that the shutdown stalemate will merge with an expected fight over raising the debt ceiling. Leaders of major financial firms met with the president today to discuss the potential economic harm. As things stand, the federal government will default on its obligations unless Congress lifts the borrowing limit by October 17.