Sat 8:09pm: Congress lumbers while threatened default looms
WASHINGTON – Republicans and Democrats in Congress lumbered through a day of political maneuvering today while a threatened default by the Treasury crept uncomfortably closer and a partial government shutdown neared the end of its second week.
“We haven’t done anything yet” by way of compromise, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after Senate leaders took control of efforts to end the impasse, although he and other Democrats said repeatedly there was reason for optimism.
Across the Capitol, tea party caucus Republican Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana said there was “definitely a chance that we’re going to go past the deadline” on Thursday that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has set for Congress to raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit.
Lawmakers in both parties said they were watching for the reaction to the political uncertainty by the financial markets when they reopen after the weekend.
President Barack Obama met with Senate Democratic leaders at the White House after accusing Republicans of practicing the politics of extortion. “Manufacturing crises to extract massive concessions isn’t how our democracy works, and we have to stop it,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.
Ironically, though, House Republicans who triggered the shutdown with tea party-driven demands to eradicate Obama’s health law conceded that they had temporarily been reduced to virtual bystander status.
“The Senate needs to hold tough,” Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., quoted Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as telling the GOP rank and file in a private meeting. “The president now isn’t negotiating with us.”
The effects of the partial government shutdown varied widely, and in some cases, states and outsiders were stepping in.
Officials said the Statue of Liberty would reopen on Sunday after New York agreed to pick up the $61,600 daily tab for running the site. South Dakota and corporate donors did the same for Mount Rushmore, beginning on Monday at a cost of $15,200 a day.
The White House, drawing attention to the effects of the partial shutdown on government research, noted that four of five Nobel Prize-winning scientists working for the federal government had to be furloughed. It said two-thirds of the employees at the Centers for Disease Control have had to stay home.