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Obama accepts no blame for shutdown

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2013

President Obama on Tuesday laid the blame for the government shutdown entirely on congressional Republicans, rejecting any responsibility for the stalemate and calling it "a Republican shutdown" caused by spite over Obamacare.

Although polls fault both sides for the standoff, the White House insisted Tuesday that Mr. Obama was blameless for Washington's dysfunction. The president gave no outward signs that he planned to negotiate with Republican lawmakers anytime soon to seek an end to the budget impasse.

Instead, the president scheduled an appearance Thursday at a construction company in the District to urge Congress to end the shutdown and to raise the nation's borrowing limit.

While large swaths of the federal government were shut down, aides said Mr. Obama still plans to depart on Air Force One this weekend for a long-scheduled weeklong trip to Asia.

More than 12 hours after the government shut down for the first time since 1996, Mr. Obama made a public appearance in the White House Rose Garden, surrounding himself with people who officials said will benefit from his health care initiative. He criticized tea party Republicans in the House for what he said was their willingness to risk an economic meltdown to get their way.

"They've shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans," Mr. Obama said. "In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job."

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said he has received two brief phone calls from Mr. Obama in the past two weeks and that the president has been unwilling to negotiate.

"For years, the president has said that in a divided government, no one gets 100 percent of what they want. But when will his words match his actions?" Mr. Boehner wrote in an op-ed in USA Today.

On Capitol Hill, House and Senate leaders remain far apart on a deal to reopen parts of the federal government that shut down at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, when the fiscal year ended.

Republicans fire back

Mr. Obama came under fire from Republicans in Washington and across the nation for what his critics call a lack of leadership.

"What is especially disappointing to me is the unwillingness of the president and Senate Democrats to make a reasonable effort to resolve the real differences of opinion that exist here. ... [Mr. Obama] seems to be able to talk with the Iranian rulers, but not the congressional leaders," Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said in remarks on the chamber floor Tuesday. "This stubbornness in the face of reasonableness will not be good for our country."

Similar sentiments have come from political pundits, Republican governors across the U.S. and others. By staking out such a firm position, analysts say, and essentially drawing another "red line" on the domestic issues of spending and health care, Mr. Obama is in a weaker political position than Mr. Boehner and his caucus.

"The president has put himself into a corner because he has said he is not going to negotiate. ... If he then decides to negotiate, the question becomes, 'How much is rhetoric worth?'" said Lara Brown, director of the political management program at George Washington University. "Will the public shaming [of Republicans] be enough? My sense is that it won't. ... Somebody has to be perceived to cave."

No 'reason' to happen

But the president's line on the first full day of the shutdown was that the whole thing could have been avoided if Republicans had listened to "reason."

"This Republican shutdown did not have to happen, but I want every American to understand why it did happen: Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to fund the government unless we defunded or dismantled the Affordable Care Act," he said. "This, more than anything else, seems to be what the Republican Party stands for these days. A lot of the Republicans in the House ran for office two years ago promising to shut down the government, and so apparently they've now gotten their wish."

The White House told Americans that the president was blameless for the shutdown.

Asked by a reporter whether Mr. Obama bears any responsibility for the shutdown, White House press secretary Jay Carney replied, "I'm not sure what you mean."

"It is his responsibility to try to work with Congress in the spirit of compromise," Mr. Carney said. "He certainly did not vote to shut the government down."

For the second time in as many days, a stern Mr. Obama urged Republican leaders to back down from their determination to repeal, defund or delay Obamacare, the president's signature domestic achievement.

Key parts of the law went into effect Tuesday, and Mr. Obama again promoted his entitlement program, even reading out the toll-free number — 1-800/318-2596 — and urging Americans to sign up.

With many White House employees furloughed as a result of the shutdown, the president's Rose Garden event got off to an uncertain start. As Mr. Obama approached the podium, he got squealing feedback from the microphones.

"Can everybody hear me? Mic working?" he asked.

Mr. Obama said the country may not know the full impact of the shutdown on the economy for some time.

"It will depend on how long it lasts," he said. "We know that the last time Republicans shut down the government in 1996, it hurt our economy."

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