Obama Blames ‘Ransom’ Demand for ‘Republican Shutdown’

No end in sight to the standoff

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Jonathan Ernst / REUTERS

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)

President Barack Obama placed the blame for the first government shutdown in 17 years squarely on Republican shoulders Tuesday afternoon, as Senate and House leaders continued to trade blame themselves and the political standoff continued with no end in sight.

Obama, speaking at the White House, repeatedly sought to brand it as a “Republican shutdown,” and said the GOP’s efforts to use the shutdown to defund or delay his health care reform law are hurting the economy.

“They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans,” Obama said. “In other words, they demanded a ransom just for doing their jobs.

“We know that the longer this shutdown continues, the worse its effects will be,” Obama added. “More families will be hurt. More businesses will be harmed.”

The White House was preparing for the shutdown to last at least through Thursday, with plans to dispatch the president to a local construction company in Washington that day to highlight the economic toll. Tuesday afternoon, the White House rejected a plan suggested by House Republicans that would fund federal parks, veterans’ programs and the District of Columbia.

“These piecemeal efforts are not serious, and they are no way to run a government,” said White House Spokeswoman Amy Brundage. “If House Republicans are legitimately concerned about the impacts of a shut down — which extend across government from our small businesses to women, children and seniors — they should do their job and pass a clean CR to reopen the government. The President and the Senate have been clear that they won’t accept this kind of game-playing, and if these bills were to come to the President’s desk he would veto them.”

Despite the White House’s veto threat, the House on Tuesday evening voted on but rejected three bills that would have restored limited funding to federal programs.

Hours earlier, the Senate rejected a House motion to form a conference committee to negotiate differences between the two chambers. The vote was 54-46, split on party lines. It was the third time in the last two days that the Senate voted to reject House measures tying government funding to delaying or defunding the health reform law. Obama and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have called Republicans’ demands “extortion.”“We will not go to conference with a gun to our head,” Reid said on the Senate floor late Monday. “We will not go to conference until we get a clean [continuing resolution].”

But Republicans said they are heeding an American public yearning for them to stop an unpopular law. Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, the GOP whip, said constituents want them to “stay strong” and “stop the runaway train called the federal government.”

Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsh Blackburn predicted that dire warnings of economic calamity during a shutdown would prove unfounded.

“People are going to realize they can live with a lot less government,” she said on Fox News.

Most of the federal government shut down early Tuesday morning, when funding for the federal government expired. More than 800,000 federal employees are expected to be furloughed, while many more are required to work without pay.It is still unclear how long this shutdown will last. “I honestly don’t know what the timing on this is,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) Monday night.

“I have no idea. I’m just along for the ride,” said House Deputy Whip Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

American voters oppose Congress shutting down the federal government to block implementation of Obamacare, 72 percent to 22 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday morning. Republicans support the federal government shutdown by a narrow 49-44 percent margin, while opposition rises to 90 percent among Democrats.

But Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) argued that the president and the Democrats will blink first. “When your approval rating is at 9 percent as an institution, we don’t have much further to go down,” Huelskamp said Monday. “The president’s approval ratings are not going to up.”

In a letter to federal employees, the president said of the shutdown, “None of this is fair to you.”

“It should not have happened,” Obama added. “And the House of Representatives can end it as soon as it follows the Senate’s lead, and funds your work in the United States Government without trying to attach highly controversial and partisan measures in the process.”

Democrats saw political advantage in the shutdown, with the Democratic National Committee saying that Monday, the eve of the shutdown, was its best fundraising day since last November’s election.

Charlotte Alter and Noah Rayman contributed to this article.