Obama on the attack over US government shutdown

US president says Republicans in the House of Representatives are on an 'ideological crusade' against his healthcare law.

A sign telling visitors that the area is closed for restoration is posted on the National Mall near Capitol Hill in Washington after the US federal government shut down for the first time in 17 years. Jim Watson / AFP
Powered by automated translation

Washington // The US president Barack Obama went on the attack against Republican legislators in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, blaming them for a government shutdown as part of an “ideological crusade” against his healthcare law.

“One faction of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government shut down major parts of the government all because they didn’t like one law,” the president said at the White House. “It’s all about rolling back the Affordable Care Act.”

Republicans and Democrats in Congress remained at an impasse over reaching a budget deal on the first day of the new fiscal year. That led to a shutdown of the government at midnight on Monday, forcing about 800,000 federal workers off the job. The shutdown could cost the economy as much as US$10 billion a week, the White House said on its website.

Mr Obama is seeking to reinforce his message to voters about who is to blame in the standoff, calling it a “Republican shutdown”. Republicans have criticised the president, saying he has refused to negotiate.

“I urge House Republicans to reopen the government,” Mr Obama said.

He spoke after meeting in the Oval Office with Americans who are among those the White House says will benefit from the opening on Tuesday of insurance excahnges on state or federal websites as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Mr Obama said the law would not be affected by the partial government shutdown because the programme was funded by mandatory spending.

The dire predictions about cost and healthcare rationing by the law’s opponents “haven’t come true”, he said.

The insurance exchanges got off to a rocky start, with many websites meant to provide new access to the uninsured seeing delays or breakdowns.

Mr Obama acknowledged “glitches” in the system on its first day because demand on healthcare websites exceeded expectations.

The president also warned Republicans against using a crucial mid-October deadline to raise the government’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling as leverage to try to reverse the healthcare law or achieve other political objectives.

“Congress, generally, has to stop governing by crisis,” he said. “I’m not going allow anybody to drag the good name of the United States of America just to refight a settled election or extract ideological demands.”

A debt default that would result if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling when it is reached in less than three weeks could be devastating, Mr Obama said. The threat of default in 2011 resulted in a painful debt rating downgrade, he added.

“If they go through with it this time, and force the United States to default for the first time in its history, it would be far more dangerous than a government shutdown, as bad as a shutdown is. It would be an economic shutdown,” he said.

It is not clear how long the current shutdown might last, and there were no known negotiations planned after the Senate earlier on Tuesday rejected an offer from the House to meet in a conference committee to settle differences.

It is the first shutdown of the government since 1995-1996, when the then president Bill Clinton was in a budget battle with Republicans in Congress.

* Bloomberg with additional reporting by Associated Press