By ALAN FRAM, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — The government limped into a third day of partial shutdown Thursday after a White House meeting among President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders yielded no signs of progress but plenty of evidence that Democrats and Republicans remained riven over a dispute that has idled hundreds of thousands of federal workers and curtailed services nationwide.
"The House could act today to reopen the government and stop the harm this shutdown is causing to the economy and families across the country," the White House said in a written statement after the session. In a jab at the GOP-led chamber, it added, "The president remains hopeful that common sense will prevail."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, complained to reporters that Obama had said anew that "he will not negotiate." Boehner made clear that curbing the health care overhaul that Obama pushed into law three years ago remains part of the price for returning 800,000 furloughed federal workers to their jobs and resuscitating programs ranging from feeding pregnant women to staffing Internal Revenue Service call centers.
"All we're asking for here is a discussion and fairness for the American people under Obamacare," Boehner said, using the name Republicans often use for the 2010 law.
Wednesday's lack of progress did little to dispel the widening impression that the dispute could persist into mid-October and become tangled with an even more consequential battle. The Obama administration has said Congress must renew the government's authority to borrow money by Oct. 17 or risk a first-ever federal default, which many economists say would dangerously jangle the world economy.
The shutdown stalemate is already rattling investors. Stock markets in the U.S. and overseas faded Wednesday, and Europe's top central banker, Mario Draghi, called the shutdown "a risk if protracted." Leading financial executives met with Obama, and one, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, said politicians should not use a potential default "as a cudgel."
On Thursday, Republicans planned to continue pursuing their latest strategy: muscling bills through the House that would restart some popular programs.
Votes were on tap for restoring funds for veterans and paying members of the National Guard and Reserves. On Wednesday, the chamber voted to finance the national parks and biomedical research and let the District of Columbia's municipal government spend federally controlled dollars.
Democrats demanded that the entire government be reopened, and the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made clear that the GOP's narrower bills have no chance of survival. They said the strategy showed that Republicans were buckling under public pressure, with Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., saying groups like veterans were being "used as a pawn in this cynical political game."
Republicans countered that Democrats were being inflexible and were to blame for the continued closure of programs the GOP was trying to reopen. A favorite target was Reid, who has made clear that the Senate will be a graveyard for the Republican effort.
"The Senate's refusal to work with the House is an all-time low," Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., said.
Reid told reporters that Obama and Democrats are "locked in tight" on not diluting the health care law. And the White House said that during his meeting with congressional leaders, Obama repeated his refusal to negotiate over extending the government's debt limit. The White House said Obama believed it was Congress' job "to pay the bills it has racked up and spare the nation from a devastating default."
In an interview afterward, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., scoffed at the president's stance.
"He can't get his way exactly the way he wants it because he doesn't control the entire government," McConnell said on CNBC's "The Kudlow Report."
Democrats continued lambasting Boehner and freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the tea party hero who has helped sell fellow conservatives in both chambers on keeping the government shuttered until Obama retreats on his coveted health care law.
"Sadly, he's become a puppet," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of Boehner, "with Ted Cruz pulling the strings."
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and other House conservatives said they met with Cruz and other Senate conservatives Wednesday to update each other on what was happening.
"We think we just have to keep talking about our message, which is real simple: 'Treat people fairly,'" Jordan said.
Republican leaders and many rank-and-file GOP lawmakers, especially in the Senate, had been reluctant to link demands for curbing the health care law to legislation keeping government open, concerned that voters would blame Republicans for any shutdown.
But Wednesday, Republicans solidly opposed an unsuccessful Democratic move to force the House to vote on a Senate-passed bill keeping government open until Nov. 15 without any strings on the health care law.
"Now that we've jumped off the cliff, lit ourselves on fire, we've entered the valley of death," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who has criticized the conservatives' strategy. "So now we've got to keep running and we have to hold together."
The House has approved legislation keeping the entire government funded through Dec. 15. It also would impose a one-year delay in the health care law's requirement that individuals buy health insurance, which would threaten to cripple the program, and block federal subsidies for health coverage bought by lawmakers and their staff.
As the politicians battled, mail continued to be delivered, air traffic controllers remained at work and payments were being made to recipients of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment benefits.
Halted were most routine food inspections by the Food and Drug Administration and loan approvals for many low- and middle-income borrowers by the Housing and Urban Development Department.
Only 3 percent of NASA employees were on the job, while 86 percent at the Homeland Security Department were working.
The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said 70 percent of civilian workers at the CIA and other intelligence agencies he controls were furloughed. He warned Congress that the national security risk "will accumulate over time."