WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is cancelling a trip to Asia to stay in Washington and push for an elusive funding bill to get business back up and running after days of a U.S. government shutdown.
In a statement late Thursday, the White House blamed Republicans, saying the “completely avoidable” government shutdown was hurting the president’s efforts to promote trade and U.S. influence in emerging world markets. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Bali, Indonesia, on Friday and will head the U.S. delegation to the summits.
Obama’s decision to skip the summits in Indonesia and Brunei was an indication of how entrenched the stand-off appeared to be as it entered its fourth day with no end in sight. Funding for much of the government has been cut off since Tuesday, when a Republican effort to thwart President Barack Obama’s new health care law stalled a normally routine spending bill that would have kept the government going.
Lawmakers said it seemed to be quickly merging with a more critical showdown over the nation’s expiring line of credit, raising the stakes for the still-fragile economy. The U.S. Treasury warned that failure to raise the debt ceiling could spark a new recession even worse than the one Americans are still recovering from.
House Republicans were keeping up a drive to open certain agencies and programs on a piecemeal basis — a strategy rejected by the White House and Democratic allies in Congress. And furloughed federal workers were expected to get some relief with legislation authorizing back pay due for a vote on Friday or Saturday.
Obama had been set to leave Saturday night for the Pacific island getaway of Bali for a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation. It originally was scheduled as one of four Asian stops, and the White House announced earlier in the week that the final legs of Malaysia and the Philippines were being cut because of staffing problems due to the shutdown. Obama had held out hope that a budget deal would allow the visit to Bali and Brunei, where more economic summits were planned, but decided the cancel the entire trip Thursday.
“The cancellation of this trip is another consequence of the House Republicans forcing a shutdown of the government,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “This completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to create jobs through promotion of U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership and interests in the largest emerging region in the world.”
Obama has turned more personal in his criticism of Republicans for seeking to use a temporary funding bill to extract concessions on his health care law, calling out Republican House Speaker John Boehner as standing in the way of a vote for a bill with no strings attached.
“Speaker John Boehner won’t even let the bill get a yes-or-no vote, because he doesn’t want to anger the extremists in his party. That’s all. That’s what this whole thing is about,” Obama said Thursday.
On Friday, the House planned a vote to fund a popular program providing food aid to pregnant women and their children, as well as ongoing disaster relief, continuing piecemeal efforts to finance essential and popular programs while resisting calls from Democrats to simply allow a vote on a straightforward measure to fund the government through mid-November or mid-December.
Republican leaders like Boehner originally had tried to engineer such an outcome but were forced to change course after protests from a small group of very conservative lawmakers seeking to defund the president’s health care law.
Obama and his Treasury Department said failure to raise the country’s borrowing limit, expected to hit its $16.7 trillion cap in mid-October, could precipitate an economic nosedive worse than the recent Great Recession. A default could cause the nation’s credit markets to freeze, the value of the dollar to plummet and U.S. interest rates to skyrocket, according to a Treasury report Thursday.
Obama catalogued a litany of troubles that could be caused by the failure to raise the debt ceiling, from delayed benefit and disability checks to worldwide economic repercussions. “If we screw up, everybody gets screwed up,” he said.
The speaker’s office reiterated Boehner’s past assertion that he would not let the government default on its debt. “But if we’re going to raise the debt limit, we need to deal with the drivers of our debt and deficits,” his spokesman, Michael Steel, said. “That’s why we need a bill with cuts and reforms to get our economy moving again.”
Obama is pushing hard against expectations that he needs to give concessions in exchange for a normally routine stopgap funding bill. And on the separate debt limit increase, needed to make sure that the U.S. can pay all of its bills on time and in full, Democrats pointed to the debt ceiling increases they gave to former president George W. Bush without any strings attached.