- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Congressional leaders emerged Wednesday night from a meeting with President Obama at the White House reporting little progress as all sides struggle for a solution to the government shutdown, which began Tuesday and showed no signs of breaking.

At the Capitol, the House continued to try to chip away at the problem by passing bills to fund high-profile programs such as national parks and the National Institutes of Health. But Mr. Obama has vowed to veto those bills, saying he won’t fund the government piece by piece.

Instead, Democrats held firm on their insistence that Republicans pass the Senate’s version of a spending bill that would fund the entire government at last year’s levels, and would preserve Mr. Obama’s health care law.

SEE ALSO: IRS collecting money but not sending tax refunds during shutdown

“They will not negotiate,” House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, told reporters after the meeting.

Although both sides said they didn’t want a shutdown, congressional aides were predicting that the fight could last for weeks. Mr. Obama canceled part of a trip to Asia, scheduled to begin this weekend, to keep working on the issue.

Some lawmakers said the spending fight is likely to get wrapped up in a battle over the government’s debt ceiling, which the Treasury says it will hit in two weeks.

SEE ALSO: Doves and peaceniks no more: These Democrats relish the role of bullies

Republican unity is beginning to fray, with a significant number of House Republicans saying they would vote for the Senate spending bill if given a chance. For now, they also are voting for the bills Republican leaders are putting on the floor to fund popular parts of the government.

The bill to fund the national parks passed on a 252-173 vote, while the measure to fund the NIH cleared on a 254-171 vote. In both cases, about two dozen Democrats joined with the Republicans.

The White House, though, said the bills were non-starters and “not a serious or responsible way to run the United States government.”

In addition to the NIH and parks bills, the House held a revote on a measure to let the District of Columbia spend its own tax money on operations, which would ensure it could stay open throughout a shutdown. As a federal district, it normally would have to tie its budget to the rest of federal funding.

On Tuesday, House Democrats blocked the D.C. bill, but Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s nonvoting member of Congress, said she worked to persuade her fellow Democrats to free the District from the spending fight. The bill passed Wednesday on a voice vote.

“It’s our money, not yours,” said Ms. Norton, who vowed to work on Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats to follow the House’s lead.

The House’s piecemeal approach has taken some of the focus off of Obamacare, but as he emerged from the meeting at the White House, Mr. Boehner said that remains a key sticking point.

“All we’re asking for here is a discussion and fairness for the American people under Obamacare,” he said, alluding to some of the exceptions and delays Mr. Obama has granted to labor unions and businesses.

Democrats countered that Republicans are trying to win on two major points: denting Obamacare and funding basic government services at a $986 billion level in fiscal year 2014.

Democrats said they would prefer spending levels tens of billions of dollars higher and that they already have compromised by accepting the lower number.

Mr. Obama’s decision to call congressional leaders to the White House marks a major shift. Until that point, he was content to let congressional leaders do the fighting.

By directing the top Democrat and top Republican in each chamber to come to the White House, he has invested himself deeply.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called the meeting “worthwhile,” and Mr. Boehner said it was “polite.” Still, it was clear that Mr. Obama was no more ready to negotiate than the four congressional leaders.

Democrats insist that if the House votes on the Senate version, it would pass.

Indeed, Democrats have identified at least 17 Republicans who have said they would vote for the “clean” Senate legislation if given the chance. That number, combined with all Democrats, would ensure the bill’s passage.

Republicans had to use parliamentary tactics to keep Democrats from being able to offer the Senate version on the House floor Wednesday.

“Why is the majority afraid of democracy? Why are they afraid of allowing this House to work its will?” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Maryland Democrat who tried to force a vote on the Senate measure.

Republicans countered that while there isn’t agreement on every part of the overall spending bill, Congress could approve funding for programs where there is unity — such as veterans’ benefits, paychecks for the National Guard and reopening the national parks.

Park closures in the Washington area have become a thorny problem for the White House after elderly veterans had to push through barricades to get into the National World War II Memorial on the Mall on Tuesday.

House Republicans on Wednesday opened an official investigation into the park service’s handling of the shutdown.

In a letter to park service, Director Jonathan Jarvis, Rep. Doc Hastings, Washington Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, questioned why the service suddenly posted guards and barricades at an open-air site that under normal circumstances isn’t guarded for at least 10 hours out of the day.

The park service reversed itself Wednesday and said it would permit some veterans groups to visit the memorial.

Mr. Hastings said he wanted to know whether the White House pressured the park service to close high-profile sites — particularly since the Lincoln Memorial wasn’t closed during the last government shutdown in 1996.

Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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