WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama met with Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress on Wednesday to try to break a budget deadlock that has shut wide swaths of the federal government, but there was no breakthrough and both sides blamed each other.
After more than an hour of talks, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said Obama refused to negotiate, while House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Republicans of trying to hold the president hostage over Obamacare.
Reid said Obama told Republicans "he will not stand" for their tactics. The White House later issued a statement saying that Obama remains hopeful that "common sense will prevail."
There was little to encourage hope for a quick solution to the two-day-old shutdown and hundreds of thousands of federal employees remained off the job without pay.
Leaders of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic-led Senate offered token concessions that were quickly dismissed by the other side. Obama, meanwhile, scaled back a long-planned trip to Asia.
Republicans have tried to tie continued government funding to measures that would undercut Obama's signature healthcare law. Obama and his Democrats say that is a non-starter.
"The president reiterated one more time that he will not negotiate," Boehner told reporters after the White House meeting. "All we're asking for here is a discussion and fairness for the American people under Obamacare."
Reid said Democrats were willing to discuss any way to tackle the budget after a temporary funding bill is passed. "We're through playing these little games," he said.
"My friend John Boehner ... cannot take yes for an answer," he told reporters.
The shutdown, which took effect Monday at midnight (0400 GMT Tuesday), has raised questions about Washington's ability to carry out its most essential duties.
Though it would do relatively little damage to the world's largest economy in the short term, global markets could be roiled if Congress also fails to raise the debt limit before borrowing authority runs out in coming weeks.
The shutdown has closed landmarks like the Grand Canyon, cut off government economic data reports and prevented some cancer patients from receiving cutting-edge treatment.
United Technologies Corp, which makes Sikorsky helicopters and other items for the military, said it would be forced to furlough as many as 4,000 employees if the US government shutdown continues through next week, due to the absence of government quality inspectors.
"Am I exasperated? Absolutely I'm exasperated. Because this is entirely unnecessary," Obama told CNBC television in an interview before meeting the congressional leaders. "I am exasperated with the idea that unless I say to 20 million people, 'You can't have health insurance,' these folks will not reopen the government. That is irresponsible."
The US Army's top general said the shutdown was significantly harming day-to-day operations, and intelligence leaders say it is undermining their ability to monitor threats. A Federal Reserve official said it could delay the central bank's ability to assess whether its monetary stimulus efforts are still needed.
The uncertainty in Washington has forced Obama to scale back an Asia trip that was designed to reinforce US commitment to the region.
Despite the shutdown, Boehner's Republicans have failed to derail Obama's controversial healthcare law, which passed a milestone on Tuesday when it began signing up uninsured Americans for subsidized health coverage.
The government on Wednesday scrambled to add computer capacity to handle an unexpectedly large number of Americans logging onto new online insurance marketplaces.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, speaking to CNBC, described the law as a "trainwreck" that was "creating havoc across the country," and reiterated Republicans' call for a one-year delay in its implementation.
Though some moderate Republicans have begun to question their party's strategy, Boehner so far has kept them united behind a plan to offer a series of small bills that would re-open select parts of the government most visibly affected by the shutdown.
The Republican-controlled House passed and sent to the Senate on Wednesday a funding bill that would re-open the National Institutes of Health, which conducts medical research, and another bill to reopen shuttered federal parks and museums, such as the Smithsonian museums, the National Gallery of Art and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Both bills passed with the support of about two-dozen Democrats, who joined Republicans. The House was expected to vote Thursday on measures to fund veterans' care, the District of Colombia and the Army Reserve.
The measures are likely to be defeated in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and Obama said he would veto them if they reached his desk.
Still, they allowed Republicans to charge that their adversaries are standing in the way of help for elderly veterans and young cancer patients. "Will they now say 'no' to funding for veterans, our National Parks and the National Institutes of Health?" asked Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll indicated that 24 percent of Americans blamed Republicans for the shutdown, while 19 percent blamed Obama or Democrats. Another 46 percent said everyone was to blame.
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