President Barack Obama brought congressional leaders to the White House on Wednesday for the first time since a partial government shutdown began, but there was no sign of progress toward ending an impasse that has idled 800,000 federal workers and curbed services around the country.
The standoff continued after a White House summit with chief executives as financial leaders and Wall street urged a resolution before serious damage is done to the U.S. and world economy.
Obama “refuses to negotiate,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio., told reporters after private talks that lasted more than an hour. “All we’re asking for here is a discussion and fairness for the American people under Obamacare.”
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said moments later, “We’re locked in tight on Obama-care” and neither the president nor Democrats will accept changes in the nation’s 3-year-old health care law as the price for spending legislation needed to end the two-day partial shutdown.
With the nation’s ability to borrow money soon to lapse, Republicans and Democrats alike said the shutdown could last for two weeks or more, and soon oblige a divided government to grapple with both economy-threatening issues at the same time.
The White House said in a statement after the meeting that Obama had made it clear “he is not going to negotiate over the need for Congress to act to reopen the government or to raise the debt limit to pay the bills Congress has already incurred.”
The high-level bickering at microphones set up outside the White House reflected the day’s proceedings in the Capitol.
The Republican-controlled House approved legislation to reopen the nation’s parks and the National Institutes of Health, even though many Democrats criticized them as part of a piecemeal approach that fell short of what was needed. The bills face dim prospects in the Senate, and the White House threatened to veto both in the unlikely event they make it to Obama’s desk.
“What we’re trying to do is to get the government open as quickly as possible,” said the House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. “And all that it would take is us realizing we have a lot in agreement.”
Earlier, an attempt by Democrats to force shutdown-ending legislation to the House floor failed on a 227-197 vote, with all Republicans in opposition. That left intact the tea-party-driven strategy of demanding changes to the nation’s health-care overhaul as the price for essential federal financing, despite grumbling from Republican moderates.
The stock market ended lower as Wall Street CEOs, Europe’s central banker and traders pressed for a solution. Chief executives from the nation’s biggest financial firms met Obama for more than an hour Wednesday, some of them plainly frustrated with the tactics at play in Congress and with the potential showdown coming over the debt limit.
In an interview with CNBC before meeting with lawmakers, Obama said he would not negotiate with Republicans until the government is reopened and Congress votes to raise the debt limit.