Prospect for quick end to shutdown is remote

WASHINGTON (AP) — Prospects for a swift end

to the 4-day-old partial government shutdown all but vanished Friday as

lawmakers

squabbled into the weekend and increasingly shifted their focus to

a midmonth deadline for averting a threatened first-ever

default.

"This isn't some damn game," said House

Speaker John Boehner, as the White House and Democrats held to their

position of agreeing

to negotiate only after the government is reopened and the $16.7

trillion debt limit raised.

House Republicans appeared to be shifting

their demands, de-emphasizing their previous insistence on defunding the

health

care overhaul in exchange for re-opening the government. Instead,

they ramped up calls for cuts in federal benefit programs

and future deficits, items that Boehner has said repeatedly will

be part of any talks on debt limit legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also said the two issues were linked. "We not only have a shutdown, but we have

the full faith and credit of our nation before us in a week or ten days," he said.

Reid and other Democrats blocked numerous

attempts by Sen. Ted Cruz to approve House-passed bills reopening

portions of the

government. The Texas Republican is a chief architect of the

"Defund Obamacare" strategy and met earlier this week with allies

in the House and an aide to Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to

confer on strategy.

In a lengthy back-and-forth with Reid and other Democrats, Cruz blamed them and the White House for the impasse and accused

them of a "my way or the highway" attitude.

But Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., likened the Republican strategy to "smashing a piece of crockery with a hammer, gluing two or

three bits back together today, a couple more tomorrow, and two or three more the day after that."

For all the rhetoric, there was no evident urgency about ending the partial shutdown before the weekend.

The Republican-controlled House approved legislation restoring funds for federal disaster relief on a vote of 247-164, and

moved toward a vote to allow the resumption of the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

Saturday's agenda called for passing a bill to assure post-shutdown pay for an estimated 800,000 furloughed federal employees

off the job since mid-day Tuesday, then turning off the lights on the House floor until Monday night to allow lawmakers to

fly home for two days.

After issuing a string of veto threats against GOP spending bills, the White House did not object to the one to assure pay

for furloughed employees.

There was no doubt about the political underpinnings of the struggle. Democrats and most Republicans have assumed the GOP

would be hurt by a shutdown, citing the impact of the last episode, in 1996.

But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said of

Democrats, "I don't think they've poll tested 'we won't negotiate. I

think it's awful for

them to say that over and over again." His words recorded on

videotape, he said, "I think if we keep saying we wanted to defund

it (the new health care law), we fought for that and now we're

willing to compromise on this we're going to win this, I think."

The shutdown caused the White House to scrub

a presidential trip to Asia, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics delayed

its customary

monthly report on joblessness as impacts of the partial shutdown

spread.

According to warnings by the administration and Wall Street, failure to raise the debt limit, by contrast, had the potential

to destablize financial markets and inflict harm on the economy quickly.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has said that unless Congress acts, the government will be unable to pay all its debts and will

run the risk of default. He has urged lawmakers to act by Oct. 17.

Debt limit bills typically pass first in the

House, then move to the Senate. So far, neither Boehner nor the rest of

the leadership

has said when they expect to draft and have a vote on one. More

than a week ago, they circulated a list of items that might

be included— calls for higher Medicare costs for better-off

seniors, a wholesale easing of environmental regulations and approval

of the Keystone Pipeline among them.

Republican officials said that in a

closed-door session with the rank and file during the day, the speaker

renewed his long-standing

commitment to seeking reforms and savings from benefit programs to

help reduce federal deficits. They spoke on condition of

anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss a private

meeting.

At the White House, Obama has said repeatedly he will not negotiate over the terms of debt limit legislation but is willing

to discuss a range of issues once the government is reopened and the Treasury able to borrow freely again.

The shutdown began Monday at midnight after

Republicans demanded the defunding of the nation's new health insurance

system

in exchange for providing essential federal funding, and the White

House and Democrats refused. Boehner and the House followed

up with several other measures to reopen the government, all of

them with other health-care-related conditions attached, and

each subsequently rejected by Democrats.

In a counter move, Democrats took steps to force a vote by midmonth through a discharge petition, a procedural maneuver that

only needs the signatures of a majority of House members and no action by the GOP leadership.

Emerging from their closed-door meeting during the day, several Republicans conceded they are unlikely to achieve that goal

as long as Obama is in the White House.

"It's time to move to fixing the financial problems of this country," said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y.

Ironically, Boehner and the leadership more than two weeks ago outlined a strategy that envisioned avoiding a shutdown and

instead using the debt limit bill as the arena for a showdown with Obama. Their hope was to win concessions from the White

House in exchange for raising the debt limit and agreeing to changes in two rounds of across the board cuts, one that took

place in the budget year that ended on Sept. 30 and the other in the 12 months that began the following day.

The strategy was foiled by a "Defund Obamacare" movement that Cruz, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and tea party groups generated over

the summer.

Despite the discord, there was unity on one front. One day after a car chase ended in gunfire outside the Capitol, lawmakers

in both parties wore lapel buttons that read: "Thank You Capitol Police."