President Barack Obama used a speech Thursday in Maryland to sharpen his critique of Republican leaders, who responded by pointing a finger at Democrats in a budget showdown that left the government closed for a third day.
Speaking at a Rockville construction firm, Obama said House Speaker John A. Boehner could easily end the impasse that caused the shutdown by voting on a stop-gap spending bill free of provisions to delay the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. And he warned of dire economic consequences if the shutdown continues.
"Speaker John Boehner won't even let the bill get a yes-or-no vote, because he doesn't want to anger the extremists in his party," Obama said. "So my simple message today is, 'Call a vote.' "
Republican lawmakers said it is Democrats who have been unwilling to negotiate on House-passed proposals to keep popular government agencies open, including the National Park Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Republicans have sent bill after bill after bill to the Senate to keep the government open, and Democrats have rejected every one of them," Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said in response to Obama's speech. "It's time for the president and Senate Democrats to come to the negotiating table."
Federal agencies closed at midnight Monday in the first government shutdown since 1996.
Statements from members of both parties were an indication that little progress was being made toward a deal. Some lawmakers hinted that the impasse could continue for weeks, until Congress faces a deadline to raise the debt ceiling.
Treasury Department officials estimate the U.S. government will hit the $16.7 trillion debt limit Oct. 17. Without congressional action to raise it, the government would default on its obligations — an outcome that some economists say would raise interest rates and harm the global economy.
Many Republicans had wanted to make their stand over Obamacare during debate on the debt ceiling, not government funding. But the strategy changed when a group of conservatives in both chambers, led by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, pushed the idea of tying their support for funding measures to their opposition to the health care law.
Democrats — and a handful of centrist Republicans — have been calling for an up-or-down vote in the House, and Obama has previously blamed Boehner for blocking that vote. But the president's language was more pointed Thursday, and it came a day after he met with congressional leaders, including Boehner, at the White House.
"Since they've taken over the House of Representatives, we have one of these crises every three months. Have you noticed?" Obama said. "You don't get to demand ransom in exchange for keeping the economy running."
But Republican demands over the Affordable Care Act might take a back seat as some GOP lawmakers now want to revive talks over a broader budget deal to reduce entitlement spending.
Democrats say they are skeptical that Boehner can deliver a budget deal after past attempts at a "grand bargain" have failed, but they are willing to enter negotiations. That all but ensures that there will be no quick resolution to the government shutdown that has furloughed 800,000 workers nationwide and closed popular national parks and museums.
"To me, this is much more about the debt ceiling and a larger budget agreement than it is about Obamacare — that almost gets in the way of the debate," said Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican who is close to Boehner.
The president spoke at M. Luis Construction Co. Inc., a Baltimore-based, minority-owned firm with nearly 250 employees. The company received a $2.5 million loan backed with federal money in 2010 that allowed it to expand.
The Small Business Administration backed $93 million per day in capital to small businesses on average over the past two fiscal years, including $1 million a day in Maryland, according to the White House.
Obama said those loans are not being processed now because of the shutdown.
"Because the majority of our work is publicly funded, the federal government shutdown will significantly — and quickly — impact our ability to keep our plant operating," Cidalia Luis-Akbar, the company's president, said in a statement.
Economists say a long shutdown could have a particularly harmful impact in Maryland. The state is home to more than 314,000 federal workers, including 286,000 civilians and 28,000 service members. That is roughly 10 percent of the state's overall workforce of 3.1 million.
State officials estimate that another 251,000 people in the state work for federal contractors.
It is not clear how many Marylanders have been furloughed, in part because agencies do not keep data on where employees live. Many Marylanders who have been affected work in Washington and Virginia. Maryland-based agencies have reported having furloughed tens of thousands of workers.
Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration has estimated that the federal shutdown will cost the Maryland economy nearly $15 million per day in taxable economic activity and $5 million per day in revenue.
The Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this article.
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