U.S. Government Closes For Another Day, No End In Sight

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It's Day 2 of the partial shutdown of the federal government. Republicans do not seem ready to compromise on defunding the Affordable Care Act. There are no negotiations between the White House and Congress.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So, how do they get out of this?

LIASSON: Well, that's a good question. There is no end in sight, and there's no escape hatch. Republicans aren't yet ready to compromise on the health care bill. Democrats aren't in the mood to rescue the Republicans from the box they've gotten themselves in. There are no negotiations underway yet between the White House and Congress. We are also running right into the debt ceiling, which will be reached on October 17th, at which time, if it's not raised, the United States defaults on its debts. And meanwhile, with the exception of essential personnel, the government is closed. Eight hundred thousand federal workers are on furlough. Post offices are open. Social Security checks are going out, and all public safety functions are continuing.

INSKEEP: Listening to Tamara Keith's report just now, it sounded like Democrats felt comfortable - or at least professed to feel comfortable - just saying no and waiting for the Republicans to fall apart.

LIASSON: Absolutely. And that is the Democrats' and the president's position in all of this. The president has been sticking to his guns. He's been very disciplined. Every day, he delivers the same message. He's following the strategy that Harry Reid devised for this shutdown, which, as you said, is to sit back and watch Republicans struggle to settle on a strategy, let them take ownership of the shutdown. Yesterday, the president was in the Rose Garden, and he gave a very aggressive speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to fund the government unless we defunded or dismantled the Affordable Care Act. They've shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans.

LIASSON: The president called it the Republican shutdown. He said that over and over again. His message is pretty clear: It's their fault. He called on Republicans in the House to pass a budget, end the shutdown and don't put the economy through this any longer. And that's the position he's sticking to.

INSKEEP: Now, Mara, you said Democrats have been reluctant to rescue Republicans. That does seem to be the situation. Republicans have been saying: Why don't you negotiate? Why don't you negotiate? That is a political message. It may have some resonance. But they're also saying: Please offer us something so we can get out of this. Does that suggest Republicans feel they're in trouble here?

LIASSON: Well, some of them do. That's not clear. There is a question of whether if the Democrats said: OK, we'll let you take a little nick out of the president's health care plan, like repealing the medical device tax, would you open the government? It's unclear if Republicans would agree to that. At the moment, Republicans appear to be paying the political price for this. It's not clear what happens if the shutdown goes on and on. Then both parties and the president may begin to suffer. But we have seen poll numbers that show Congress' job approval dropping to 10 percent. Voters oppose shutting down the government to defund the healthcare law 72 to 22 percent. And majorities are blaming the Republicans at the moment. And the Democratic National Committee says it had its biggest single fundraising day yesterday, as it capitalized on the backlash to the shutdown. But, so far, Republicans, if they are feeling the heat, feel the heat is pretty tolerable. And this gridlock just continues.

INSKEEP: How sad that Congress's approval rating would fall to 10 percent. I thought it had been climbing all the way back up to maybe 20 percent lately. I mean, they were more popular than they'd been in years. Now, what about the health care law here, Mara? Obviously, that is the Republicans' object, here. They wanted to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, or damage it. But it went into effect. The largest and final part of it went into effect yesterday.

LIASSON: It opened for business, shutdown notwithstanding. The irony here is that shutting down the government doesn't delay or defund Obamacare. The president pointed this out yesterday. Because of the funding source for the Affordable Care Act, it's proceeding on course. Now, the exchanges, the online marketplaces did open yesterday on schedule. There were technical glitches, but the administration claims that those were just the websites crashing because of so much traffic. But, so far, nothing has been done to the Affordable Care Act. It's proceeding, and the Republicans haven't yet settled on a strategy that can actually accomplish their goal.

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who's been helping us to think through and talk through this shutdown. And we're going to be needing a lot of services from her in the days ahead.

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