Washington (AFP) – The Pentagon said Saturday it will recall most of its furloughed employees as a U.S. government shutdown continued with no signs of an end to the impasse.
President Barack Obama used his weekly radio address to demand that Republican lawmakers “end this farce” and approve a budget to keep the government running.
But Republican leaders charged it was the president’s refusal to negotiate that was to blame for the continuing stalemate.
The U.S. government closed all but its essential operations Tuesday when Republican lawmakers refused to approve money for government operations without first delaying or defunding the new health care law, commonly known as Obamacare.
With public discontent building, the House of Representatives held a rare Saturday meeting and voted 407 to 0 to pass a measure to retroactively pay the hundreds of thousands of federal workers forced to stay home during the crisis.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that most of the estimated 400,000 furloughed Pentagon employees will be called back to work next week.
Hagel said Pentagon lawyers had concluded the law allows employees “whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members” to be exempted from the shutdown.
The moves reflected deepening concern over the impact of the first federal government shutdown in 17 years, but both sides continued to point fingers at each other.
“Take that vote. Stop this farce. End this shutdown now,” Obama exhorted the Republican-controlled House in his weekly radio and video address.
Eric Cantor, the number two Republican in the House, said the impasse could be worked out but Obama “seems to be unwilling to sit down and talk with us.”
“It doesn’t make any sense if the president has an ax to grind with the opposing party, why he would want to put the American people in the middle of that,” he said.
Neither chamber of Congress was scheduled to meet on Sunday.
There were growing fears that the budget battle focused on Obama’s health care law will merge with a related, and potentially more damaging, fight over raising the U.S. debt ceiling.
Obama is refusing to negotiate with Republicans over the budget issues until they pass a temporary bill to reopen the government and agree to raise the $16.7 trillion U.S. statutory borrowing limit — without which Washington could default on its debts for the first time ever starting on October 17.
“For as reckless as a government shutdown is, an economic shutdown that comes with default would be dramatically worse,” Obama said.
The US Senate has already approved a budget, and “there are enough Republican and Democratic votes in the House of Representatives willing to do the same, and end this shutdown immediately,” Obama said.
“But the far right of the Republican Party won’t let Speaker John Boehner give that bill a yes-or-no vote.”
Obama said he “won’t pay a ransom in exchange for reopening the government. And I certainly won’t pay a ransom in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.”
Some rank-and-file Republicans acknowledged that ending the shutdown requires a new plan beyond demanding changes to the health care law.
“I won’t be happy with that but I recognize the writing on the wall,” Congressman Doug Lamborn told reporters. “We do have to move on to the larger issues of the debt ceiling and the overall budget.”
He was joined by Congressman Dennis Ross, another favorite of the anti-tax, pro-small-government Tea Party wing of the Republican party.
“Pride, I think, has got to be swallowed here, probably on both sides,” he said.
Some Republicans were seeking an escape hatch, even at the cost of bucking their leadership.
Two-term Congressman Scott Rigell told AFP he wanted to see Republican “individual members who perhaps are not in leadership, to identify in advance some solution set” that could draw enough bipartisan support for reopening government and raising the debt ceiling.
Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling in Indonesia, warned that the “reckless” political standoff threatened to weaken the U.S. standing abroad.
Obama had been due to travel to Bali for an APEC leaders’ summit starting Monday, but canceled the trip to deal with the government shutdown.