Obama presses for passage of spending bill as deadline looms

As fiscal deadline looms, Obama presses Republicans not to shut government down over political wish list, especially on health care

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 8:27am

As the US government careers towards a potentially devastating shutdown, President Barack Obama has urged intransigent lawmakers to end their brinkmanship and pass a spending bill.

With less than 72 hours to go until agencies are forced to close their doors on Tuesday and more than a million US troops to remain on duty without pay, Congress yesterday appeared no closer to resolution of a fiscal crisis.

Republicans driving the agenda in the House of Representatives, which was to hold an emergency session yesterday to consider legislation to keep the government open, appeared to struggle over the way forward.

The president hailed the Senate for clearing a stopgap federal funding measure on Friday that knocked the ball into the House's court, where a diehard conservative faction is bent on thwarting Obama's health-care law.

The Republican-led lower chamber will probably tweak the bill and send it back to the Senate, which could leave insufficient time for the legislation to pass both chambers before a fiscal-year-end deadline of midnight tomorrow Washington time.

"Over the next three days, House Republicans will have to decide whether to join the Senate and keep the government open or shut it down because they can't get their way," Obama said.

Republicans, overwhelmingly opposed to so-called Obamacare, inserted a provision in the House measure that strips funding for the health-care law, but the Democratic-led Senate removed it and sent the bill back. Some Republicans would now like to see the fight over health care shift to the next fiscal battle - over the debt ceiling.

The Treasury says it will reach its US$16.7 trillion borrowing cap by October 17, and if Congress does not raise it the country will default on its debts.

The president said a default "would have a profound destabilising effect on the entire economy - on the world economy".

"We've got to break this cycle," Obama added. "My message to Congress is this: Do not shut down the government. Do not shut down the economy. Pass a budget on time."

Obama suggested it was time for House Speaker John Boehner to isolate the "extremists" holding the Republican Party captive.

But that has yet to happen. The leadership of the House was crafting a bill that would raise the debt limit, delay the health-care law's implementation by one year, green-light the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline and lower taxes for the wealthy.

Obama said he was willing to negotiate on such issues, "but we're not going to do this under the threat of blowing up the entire economy".

Some Republicans have spoken out about their conservative colleagues' strategy, warning of a backlash should government shut down.

The Pentagon said the military's 1.4 million troops would remain on duty in the event of a shutdown, but not get paid until Congress appropriated funds to compensate them, but half the Defence Department's nearly 800,000 civilian workers would be ordered to stay at home.