BUSINESS

As government shuts down, Obama focuses on military, says he'll push Congress to act soon

10/01/2013 12:14 EDT | Updated 11/30/2013 05:12 EST
WASHINGTON - As much of the federal government grinds to a halt, President Barack Obama is telling the U.S. military he'll push Congress to re-open the government as soon as possible.

In his sole response early Tuesday to Congress' failure to avert the first shutdown in nearly two decades, Obama addressed his comments in a video to American troops, rather than the lawmakers he's been scolding for weeks.

There was no reference in the three-minute video message to Republicans, whose insistence that Obama's health care law be scaled back has been at the centre of a grueling back-and-forth between the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-led Senate.

"Unfortunately, Congress has not fulfilled its responsibility," Obama said. "It has failed to pass a budget and, as a result, much of our government must now shut down until Congress funds it again."

Troops in uniform in Afghanistan and elsewhere will stay on duty, Obama said, noting he'd signed a law Monday to ensure they get their paychecks on time. That Republican bill began in the House and was taken up by the Senate, reflecting a rare measure of agreement among Democrats and Republicans: No one wants to be blamed for the military not getting paid.

But thousands of civilians who work for the Defence Department face furloughs, compounding the damage already inflicted on the military by automatic spending cuts.

"I know this comes on top of the furloughs that many of you already endured this summer," Obama said. "You and your families deserve better than the dysfunction we're seeing in Congress."

Hundreds of thousands of government workers will be off the job Tuesday after a short work period to wind down operations, but some essential services, including border patrols, air traffic controllers and Social Security benefits, will continue. Meanwhile, it was unclear how long the shutdown would last or how Congress would find a way to agree on restoring funding.

On Tuesday, Obama planned to meet with Americans who will enrol in new insurance exchanges created by his health care law; ironically, implementation of the law and the opening of the exchanges on Tuesday will proceed despite the shutdown.

On Wednesday, Obama is scheduled to meet with top Wall Street CEOs to discuss the state of the economy, including the debt ceiling. The meeting will be with members of the Financial Services Forum, a trade group representing the 19 biggest financial service institutions doing business in the United States, including Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Citigroup. The Forum joined 250 other business organizations in a letter to Congress on Monday calling on lawmakers to avoid a shutdown, raise the debt ceiling and then address long-term spending issues and deficits.

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Follow Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP and Jim Kuhnhenn at http://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn