Obama to Congress: 'Call a vote' and end the shutdown

Hundreds of thousands of workers furloughed while an array of government services have stalled

President Barack Obama speaks about the government shutdown Monday in Washington, D.C.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President Barack Obama, in a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters in Washington, D.C on Monday, urged Congress to pass legislation that would reopen the government and raise the debt limit immediately.

"My very strong suspicion is there are enough votes there," Obama said. "Hold a vote. Call a vote right now. Let's see what happens."

The shutdown, which began on Oct. 1, has pushed hundreds of thousands of workers off the job, closed national parks and museums and stopped an array of government services after congressional Republicans continued to tie defunding or delaying the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to spending bills.

Debt limit dealings

The president's comments came as officials said Senate Democrats intended to introduce legislation by mid-week to raise the nation's debt limit without unrelated conditions.

The White House has also signaled it would accept even a brief extension in borrowing authority to prevent a default on the nation's debt, which would be unprecedented in U.S. history.

The emerging measure is designed to assure no repetition of the current borrowing squeeze until after the 2014 elections. It is likely to allow Obama to raise the borrowing limit on his own authority, although it could be blocked if both houses vote to do so.

Depending on the Republican response, it could be the middle of next week before a final vote is taken on the measure, close to the Oct. 17 deadline that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has set for Congress to avert a possible default.

Economists say a default could trigger a financial crisis that would echo the 2008 recession — or worse. The 2008 crisis plunged the country into the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Furloughed workers

As for the shutdown, the one bright spot Monday saw 350,000 furloughed workers ordered back on the job by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who based his decision on a Pentagon interpretation of a law called the Pay Our Military Act.

Obama, meanwhile, said that Congress needed to move beyond the "manufactured crisis" and do what was best for the country and the economy. 

Congressional Republicans have insisted on White House concessions for doing so, and Obama has said he would not negotiate over raising the debt limit. The president said that he would be happy to hold talks with congressional Republicans on health care or other issues, but not under the threat of shutdown or debt default.

"We're not going to establish that pattern," Obama said. 

FEMA, which has furloughed 86 percent of its workforce, had recalled employees who were idled in the shutdown to deal with Tropical Storm Karen. But the storm weakened and dissipated Sunday after initially posing a threat to the Gulf Coast. As a result, Obama said the agency would re-furlough about 100 of those FEMA employees.

"That's no way of doing business," Obama said. 

Stalemate and animosity

The Republican-controlled House last week passed legislation that would continue to direct money to FEMA during the shutdown, but Democrats and the White House say they do not want to respond to the impasse in a "piecemeal" fashion.

A defiant House Speaker, John Boehner, R-Ohio, has insisted that Obama must negotiate on changes to the health care law and spending cuts if he wants to end the shutdown and avert a default.

Among congressional leaders, animosity marked the stalemate, and resolution of the shutdown seemed elusive.

A statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused Boehner of having a "credibility problem" and called on him to allow a vote on a straightforward bill to re-open the government.

"There is now a consistent pattern of Speaker Boehner saying things that fly in the face of the facts or stand at odds with his past actions," said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid. "Americans across the country are suffering because Speaker Boehner refuses to come to grips with reality."

In response, Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said it was "time for Senate Democrats to stow their faux outrage and deal with the problems at hand. The federal government is shutdown, because Democrats refuse to negotiate, and the debt limit is right around the corner."

Al Jazeera and wire services 

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter