Obama: Shutdown would hurt American people

President Obama speaks at a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania on April 6, 2011.
President Obama speaks at a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania on April 6, 2011.

President Obama on Wednesday chided lawmakers for "trying to inject politics" into the ongoing budget debate - and argued that it would hurt the American people if the government were to shut down as a result of lawmakers' inability to compromise.

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In remarks at a Philadelphia-area town hall meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Obama expressed frustration about stalled talks over a budget bill for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year. He argued that Congress's failure to come to an agreement so far was the result of inappropriate political posturing.

"We've agreed to a compromise, but somehow we still don't have a deal - because some folks are trying to inject politics into what should be simple debate about how to pay our bills," he said, referencing Republican budget riders addressing hot-button issues like abortion, health care reform and environmental regulation.

Mr. Obama argued that a government shutdown would damage an already-fragile economy, suggesting that average Americans would be hit with unnecessary hardships.

"When government shuts down, it means that small business owner that's waiting to get a loan, suddenly no one's there to process it," he said. "It may turn out that somebody who was trying to get a mortgage can't have their paperwork processed."

"These are things that affect ordinary families day in and day out, and it affects our economy right at the time that our economy is getting momentum," he continued. Added the president: "I do not want to see Washington politics stand in the way of America's progress."

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In a conference call on Wednesday, a senior administration official told reporters that approximately 800,000 federal employees would likely be furloughed in the event of a government shutdown. The official said that the byproducts of a shutting down - like the temporary closure of the Internal Revenue Service, the Small Business Administration, and the Federal Housing Authority - would negatively impact the country's economic momentum.

Some members of Congress expressed tepid optimism on Wednesday about a budget deal, offering that the situation looked slightly more promising than it did on Tuesday.

"I feel better today than I did yesterday,'' Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters. "There's been a direct negotiation, things put on the table that had not been discussed before, and I think we're moving towards closure.''

Durbin noted, however, that the GOP policy riders, which most Democrats oppose, were "still on the table."

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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he saw a "glimmer of hope" that a shutdown could be avoided.

"I hope there won't be a shutdown," he said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" Wednesday morning.

There's no question that tension exists between the two parties: in remarks on Wednesday, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid - one of the key negotiators in the budget talks - accused Republicans of making inconsistent demands.

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"Democrats' bottom line hasn't changed. Republicans' bottom line hasn't stayed still,'' Reid said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, argued that Democrats "still haven't come up with an alternative to the various Republican proposals we've seen to keep the government up and running in the current fiscal year."

"They've just sat on the sidelines taking potshots at everything Republicans have proposed while rooting for a shutdown," he said.

In a meeting with House Republicans on Wednesday afternoon, House Speaker John Boehner teared up while thanking members for their support during the negotiations. According to an aide for the speaker, his remarks were met with a standing ovation.

Congress has until Friday evening to pass a budget bill to fund the federal government through the end of the 2011 fiscal year. If no deal is reached, a government shutdown will go into effect on Saturday, April 9.