WASHINGTON » As much of the federal government grinds to a halt, President Barack Obama is telling the U.S. military he’ll push Congress to re-open the government as soon as possible.
In his sole response early today to Congress’ failure to avert the first shutdown in nearly two decades, Obama addressed his comments in a video to American troops, rather than the lawmakers he’s been scolding for weeks.
There was no reference in the three-minute video message to Republicans, whose insistence that Obama’s health care law be scaled back has been at the center of a grueling back-and-forth between the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-led Senate.
"Unfortunately, Congress has not fulfilled its responsibility," Obama said. "It has failed to pass a budget and, as a result, much of our government must now shut down until Congress funds it again."
Troops in uniform in Afghanistan and elsewhere will stay on duty, Obama said, noting he’d signed a law Monday to ensure they get their paychecks on time. That GOP bill began in the House and was taken up by the Senate, reflecting a rare measure of agreement among Democrats and Republicans: No one wants to be blamed for the military not getting paid.
But thousands of civilians who work for the Defense Department face furloughs, compounding the damage already inflicted on the military by automatic spending cuts.
"I know this comes on top of the furloughs that many of you already endured this summer," Obama said. "You and your families deserve better than the dysfunction we’re seeing in Congress."
Hundreds of thousands of government workers will be off the job today after a short work period to wind down operations, but some essential services, including border patrols, air traffic controllers and Social Security benefits, will continue. Meanwhile, it was unclear how long the shutdown would last or how Congress would find a way to agree on restoring funding.
As the shutdown approached hours earlier with Congress gridlocked, Obama called Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, but there was no breakthrough in the budget impasse.
Obama said a "shutdown will have a very real economic impact on real people, right away," with hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed and veterans’ centers, national parks, most of the space agency and other government operations shuttered.
He blamed House Republicans, whom he accused of seeking to tie government funding to ideological demands, "all to save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right wing of their party."
Obama planned to meet today with Americans who will enroll in new insurance exchanges created by his health care law; ironically, implementation of the law and the opening of the exchanges today will proceed despite the shutdown.
The spending fight is a prelude to the bigger confrontation over the nation’s credit limit, expected to hit its $16.7 trillion cap in mid-October. Obama on Monday urged Republicans not to saddle the legislation to increase the debt ceiling with measures designed to undermine the health care law. He has vowed not to negotiate over the debt ceiling, saying that a default would be worse for the economy than a partial government shutdown.
On Wednesday, Obama is scheduled to meet with top Wall Street CEOs to discuss the state of the economy, including the debt ceiling. The meeting will be with members of the Financial Services Forum, a trade group representing the 19 biggest financial service institutions doing business in the United States, including Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Citigroup. The Forum joined 250 other business organizations in a letter to Congress on Monday calling on lawmakers to avoid a shutdown, raise the debt ceiling and then address long-term spending issues and deficits.