Washington (AFP) – The U.S. government shutdown had its first major overseas fallout, with President Barack Obama shortening a long-planned Asia trip, as federal workers on Wednesday were idled for a second day.
Obama cancelled the Malaysia and Philippine legs of travel to get underway this weekend, and also left open the possibility of scrapping visits to Indonesia and Brunei, where he plans to take part in international summits.
The U.S. leader is scheduled to leave for Asia on Saturday, but the trip now depends on how the first U.S. government shutdown in 17 years plays out.
So far, the signs are not encouraging, as Republicans and Democrats in Washington appeared no closer to reaching agreement on a spending bill to keep the government running.
For a second day, federal workers will stay off the job without pay and tourists will be turned away from Washington’s museums and monuments, amid national exasperation that the nation’s elected officials were unable to avoid the impasse.
Obama on Tuesday accused conservatives in the House of Representatives of waging an “ideological crusade” by making government funding conditional on gutting his landmark health care law.
His top foe, Republican House Speaker John Boehner, said Obama was pursuing a“scorched earth” policy by refusing to negotiate, as the rhetoric hit new heights and hopes faded for a swift end to the standoff.
The president was in feisty form at a White House event marking the rollout of a key portion of Obamacare, which turned into an extended taunt at Republicans for failing to halt implementation of the sweeping law.
“This Republican shutdown did not have to happen — I want every American to understand why it did happen,” Obama said.
“They have shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health care to millions of Americans.”
Boehner — who chose to side with the renegade Tea Party faction of his party rather than risk his job by attempting to pass a straight funding resolution stripped of political poison pills — lit into the president with equal fervor.
“Washington Democrats have slammed the door on reopening the government by refusing to engage in bipartisan talks,” he wrote in an opinion piece in USA Today.
Political brinkmanship brings paralysis
The brinkmanship sent America into its first government shutdown in 17 years when the money ran out at midnight Monday into Tuesday.
The political paralysis remained unbroken as the Senate followed through on Majority Leader Harry Reid’s promise, rejecting the House’s demand that the two chambers appoint formal negotiators to thrash out a deal.
So far at least, Boehner is on precarious political ground.
A Quinnipiac University poll found voters, by a margin of 72 percent to 22 percent, oppose the shutdown of the government as a way to derail Obamacare.
Thousands of federal workers trekked into the nations’ capital on Tuesday, only to clear their desks after being told they were not “essential” workers during the shutdown, and told to go home.
Young aides trooped out of the White House, leaving Obama with only a skeleton crew on hand.
Perplexed tourists meanwhile were turned away from monuments and museums on the National Mall secured behind barriers and tape reading “Police Line: Do not Cross.”
But one hardy group — an ageing band of military veterans — showed up at the World War II memorial and refused to be denied entry.
The New York Daily News touted them as heroes, and ran photos of Boehner and Texas senator Ted Cruz — a key instigator of the gridlock — with the question, “What did YOU do for our country?”
Meanwhile, another symbol of hard-won freedoms — The Statue of Liberty in New York — was off limits to disappointed tourists.
And although the military and border patrol remain at full strength, the Pentagon was due to stand down almost half of its 800,000 civilian employees.
‘We won’t choose between parks and cancer research’
Meanwhile, House Republicans on Tuesday sought to pass a trio of measures funding popular parts of government, including veterans benefits and museums.
The plan appeared to be an attempt to shame Democrats who say they will not negotiate with “a gun to their head” with the government closed.
“That proposal shows the utter lack of seriousness that we’re seeing from Republicans,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
All three bills were defeated, heaping more pressure on Congress to find a solution to end the stalemate.
Democratic leader in the Senate, Reid, declared: “We won’t be forced to choose between parks and cancer research… or the FBI.”
Democratic tactics were designed to thwart every Republican attempt for a face-saving exit and to force an eventual climbdown by Boehner.
Obama warned that the shutdown could have disastrous consequences for America’s sluggish economic recovery.
“We know that the last time Republicans shut down the government in 1996, it hurt our economy. And unlike 1996, our economy is still recovering from the worst recession in generations,” the president said.
To highlight his case, Obama on Wednesday was due to meet CEOs of some top Wall Street firms at the White House.
Photo Credit: AFP/Saul Loeb