Sen. Charles Schumer, left, D-N.Y., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and Senate Budget Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., walk to a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Washington— President Barack Obama brought congressional leaders to the White House on Wednesday for the first time since a partial government shutdown began, but there were no signs of progress toward ending an impasse that has idled 800,000 federal workers and curbed services around the country.
Obama “refuses to negotiate,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio., told reporters after private talks that lasted more than an hour. “All we’re asking for here is a discussion and fairness for the American people under Obamacare.”
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said moments later, “We’re locked in tight on Obamacare” and neither the president nor Democrats will accept changes in the nation’s three-year-old health care law as the price for spending legislation needed to end the two-day partial shutdown.
With the nation’s ability to borrow money soon to lapse, Republicans and Democrats alike said the shutdown could last for two weeks or more, and soon oblige a divided government to grapple with both economy-threatening issues at the same time.
The high-level bickering at microphones set up outside the White House reflected the day’s proceedings in the Capitol.
The Republican-controlled House approved legislation to reopen the nation’s parks and the National Institutes of Health, even though many Democrats criticized them as part of a piecemeal approach that fell far short of what was needed. The bills face dim prospects in the Senate, and the White House threatened to veto both in the unlikely event they make it to Obama’s desk.
“What we’re trying to do is to get the government open as quickly as possible,” said the House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. “And all that it would take is us realizing we have a lot in agreement.”
Earlier, an attempt by Democrats to force shutdown-ending legislation to the House floor failed on a 227-197 vote, with all Republicans in opposition. That left intact the tea party-driven strategy of demanding changes to the nation’s health care overhaul as the price for essential federal financing, despite grumbling from Republican moderates.
U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, took to the House floor Wednesday and said Democrats were harming the National Guard by not agreeing to fund it to make a political point.
“I do not consider paying our National Guard a fig leaf or a distraction,” Miller said. “I consider our National Guard to be warriors essential to the defense of this nation.”
But U.S. Rep. John Dingell, the Dearborn Democrat who is the longest member of the Congress, spoke on the House floor Wednesday to condemn the GOP.
"I’ve never seen such small-minded, miserable behavior in this House of Representatives and such a disregard of our responsibilities to the people,” Dingell said.
“…The American people could get better government out of monkey island in the local zoo,” he said. “... I’m embarrassed and I’m humiliated, and I certainly hope that my colleagues on both sides – especially on the Republican side – are embarrassed. This is going to cost us huge amounts of money. "
Dingell's fiery speech sparked claps from the House gallery.
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, spent the first days of the shutdown at the World War II memorial in Washington where he said he removed barricades so veterans could visit their memorial.
Huizenga called Wednesday for his Democrats to refund such programs.
“They want the whole thing and they want it exactly how they want it, and I think that’s unfortunate,” Huizenga said on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal.
U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, insisted that it is his GOP colleagues who need to give up their “ideological obstructionism.”
“Holding the federal government hostage over ideological demands is a reckless way to govern, and I urge my Republican colleagues to abandon this divisive approach,” Conyers said in a statement.
Staff Writer Marisa Schultz contributed