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Republicans hammer Obama over government shutdown, get hammered in polls

Updated at 2:25 p.m.

Congressional leaders met to discuss the government shutdown for the first time in days Wednesday, when House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., sat down for about a 40 minute meeting.

"Reps. Pelosi and Hoyer asked for the meeting, and as we've stated publicly, we're willing to meet with any Democratic leader who is willing to talk," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

Right after the meeting, however, Boehner took to the House floor to double down on the Republican position that Obamacare be part of negotiations to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling.

"Our message in the House has been pretty clear. we want to reopen our government and provide fairness to all Americans under the president's health care law. You know the law had a big rollout last week, but its been called, and I'll quote, an inexcusable mess," Boehner said on the House floor, in reference to the widespread technical glitches on the websites people use to sign up for insurance. "How can we tax people for not buying a product form a website that doesn't work?..This is why we need to sit down and have a conversation about the big challenges that face our country."

Nine days into the federal government shutdown, with the debt ceiling just around the corner, Republicans continue to hammer President Obama to negotiate to resolve both problems.

Whether the strategy will shift blame away from the GOP and onto the Democrats remains to be seen. Right now, Republicans are bearing the brunt of the responsibility for the crisis: A new Associated Press-GfK survey released Wednesday shows that 62 percent of adults surveyed online mainly blame Republicans for the current shutdown. About half said Mr. Obama or congressional Democrats bear the responsibility. These numbers echo a Washington Post/ABC poll released Tuesday which showed 70 percent of Americans disapproving of how the GOP is handling the budget negotiations, compared to 61 percent for Democrats and 51 percent for Mr. Obama.

The president's poll numbers aren't exactly rosy, either. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed in the AP poll disapproved of his job performance; only 37 approved. But Congress takes the cake on public disappointment with a mere 5 percent approval rating.

Mr. Obama is expected to meet with the various congressional caucuses in the coming days, according to a White House official. He will start with a meeting with House Democrats at the White House Wednesday afternoon and will meet with leaders from both parties over the coming days. On Wednesday, House Republicans announced that they would only send the elected party leadership and a small group of negotiators to the meeting in the hopes that they were going to broker a solution.

While there are no indications that both sides are ready to sit down and negotiate an end to the shutdown and raising the debt ceiling, the president's meetings with congressional leaders are the first since day two of the shutdown last Wednesday and will be closely watched for any possible thawing in the stalemate.

Two Republican leaders came out with op-ed pieces in major newspapers Wednesday morning in an attempt to push the president into negotiations. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., wrote that both parties should agree to modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code in order to end the stalemate. His suggestions included asking wealthier Americans to pay higher Medicare premiums and federal employees to contribute more toward their retirement, broadening the tax base, lowering tax rates and simplifying the tax code.

"This isn't a grand bargain. For that, we need a complete rethinking of government's approach to helping the most vulnerable, and a complete rethinking of government's approach to health care," Ryan wrote. "But right now, we need to find common ground. We need to open the federal government. We need to pay our bills today--and make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow. So let's negotiate an agreement to make modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code."

But Ryan, his party's 2012 vice presidential nominee, did not mention reforming or repealing Obamacare as part of the plan he outlined. The omission drew criticism on Twitter from some conservatives.

"Obamacare is the #1 job killer and it will bankrupt our country. Your plan does nothing to stop it," said the feed of the Senate Conservatives Fund, a grassroots group that promotes conservative candidates and has taken aim at Republicans who they see as too moderate in recent weeks.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., authored a blistering piece in the Washington Post that lambasted Mr. Obama for ignoring Congress and instead overreaching on his executive powers.

"The president not only has refused to negotiate on issues of debt and spending but also has mocked the very idea of engaging with Congress. President Obama has repeatedly made clear that he feels it is beneath the office of the presidency to work in a bipartisan way with the legislative branch," Cantor wrote.

Fifty-two percent of those surveyed in the AP poll said Mr. Obama is not doing enough to cooperate with Republicans, compared with 63 percent who said the opposite - Republicans aren't doing enough to cooperate with the president. But a mere 15 percent of tea party Republicans - more than four in ten respondents - said they wanted their leaders to do more to find a solution by working with the president.

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama and House Speaker John Boehner made no progress on ending the stalemate, instead continuing to talk past each other on the issue of how to reopen the government and prevent the nation from defaulting on its debt. Mr. Obama says he is willing to negotiate on any issue as long as Congress passes legislation to fund the government and raise the debt limit with no strings attached, and Boehner has insisted that there be negotiations before doing either.

House Republicans passed a bill that would create a 20-member bicameral working group to negotiate over government funding. Senate Democrats have introduced their own bill that raises the debt limit with no other conditions.

Politico reported on Wednesday that Boehner has told other Republicans he has "something up his sleeve," but is being extremely tight-lipped with details about what that plan is.

The AP poll found a certain level of public confusion about the debt ceiling. Six in 10 respondents predicted a major economic crisis if the government can't renew its ability to borrow, yet only 30 percent say it should be raised. Forty-six percent were neutral on the question.