Obama: Government shutdown 'entirely preventable' if House GOP drops demands

Olivier Knox, Yahoo News
Yahoo News
U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press in the briefing room of the White House
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U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press about the government shutdown in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)

Ramping up his attacks on Republicans, President Barack Obama sternly warned Monday that a seemingly inevitable government shutdown just hours away “would throw a wrench into the gears of our economy” and bluntly told the GOP that it can’t stop the law popularly known as Obamacare.

“You can’t shut it down,” Obama said in the White House briefing room. "No matter what Congress decides to do today, the Affordable Care Act is moving forward."

So “Congress needs to keep our government open, needs to pay our bills on time, and never, ever threaten the full faith and credit of the United States of America,” he declared. "And time’s running out. My hope and expectation is that — in the 11th hour once again — that Congress will choose to do the right thing — and that the House of Representatives in particular will do the right thing.

A shutdown could damage the fragile economic recovery, the president said, calling it “the height of irresponsibility."

“All of this is entirely preventable if the House chooses to do what the Senate has already done — and that's the simple act of funding our government without making extraneous and controversial demands in the process," he said.

His hastily arranged remarks came with only hours left before a midnight partial government shutdown triggered by congressional battling over spending legislation.

Republicans who control the House have tried to use a catch-all bill needed to avert the shutdown to attack the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Democrats who control the Senate have rejected every attempt to do so, backed up by Obama’s threat to veto any legislation that aims to cripple his signature domestic achievement.

As Obama spoke, there appeared to be no clear path to avoid a shutdown — a crisis that could rattle financial markets and will leave hundreds of thousands of government workers and contractors with far less money in their pockets, and some of them furloughed indefinitely.

“The federal government is America’s largest employer,” the president underlined. “All of us will be hurt greatly.”

"One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn't get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election," he scolded.

Obama’s comments reflected the White House’s pugnacious approach to autumn’s twin standoffs: the prospect of a government shutdown absent new spending legislation and the possibility of a first-ever default if lawmakers don’t vote to raise the debt ceiling.

The strategy turns on two critical points: The fight is actually about the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare). And the White House sees very little political downside to holding firm, including for at-risk Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections.

First, Obamacare. It’s no exaggeration to say that Obama’s place in history — his legacy, to use a popular inside-the-Beltway term — turns on how well the Affordable Care Act functions.

And health insurance marketplace “exchanges” will come online Tuesday whether or not there’s a government shutdown.

The White House says it’s (theoretically) open to working with Republicans to address Obamacare’s likely glitches and setbacks — but not with those who seek to whittle away key provisions as steps towards unmaking the entire law.

Second, while Republicans will surely use the controversial law as a weapon in the run-up to the 2014 midterm elections, Democrats privately say they don't see a major political downside for even at-risk representatives and senators.

That's because embattled Democrats will already face Obamacare-themed attacks and can do next to nothing to win over Republican voters. In fact, one Democrat told Yahoo News, breaking from the president and Obamacare could actually cost vulnerable candidates — midterm elections are frequently thought of as decided by the parties' core, or "base," voters.

During the 2012 campaign, Obama mused that Republicanism was an illness and his re-election was the cure. His language was stark (and even a little gross).

He said he hoped that winning a second term would “break the fever” afflicting the GOP and that there might be a “popping of the blister” among conservatives.

Describing his critics’ ideology as an illness plainly did not set the stage for great good-faith cooperation after he won. But the shutdown and debt-ceiling fights have cast even more doubt on Dr. Obama’s diagnosis.

“I think we can all assess without anyone’s assistance that Republican intransigence remains quite real,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Monday. “It’s a pretty stubborn fever, clearly.”

That drew this rejoinder from a spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Brendan Buck: “The president’s policies are enough to make anyone sick.”

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