Posts Tagged ‘world war III’

(Reuters) – Up to one million federal workers were thrown temporarily out of work on Tuesday as the U.S. government partially shut down for the first time in 17 years in a standoff between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans over healthcare reforms.

The stalemate closed museums and national parks and slowed everything from trade negotiations to medical research, while sparking new questions about the ability of a deeply divided Congress to perform its most basic functions.

However, the standoff did not prevent the Obama administration from rolling out enrollment in health insurance marketplaces, the centerpiece of the most ambitious U.S. social program in five decades.

Republicans in the House of Representatives wanted to block Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act by tying continued government funding to measures that would undermine it. But the Democratic-controlled Senate repeatedly rejected those efforts.

In Washington, museums were closed to tourists and police erected barriers around landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial. The National Zoo shut off a popular “panda cam” that allowed visitors to view its newborn panda cub online.

“I think it’s outrageous. You know these guys are put into office to help the people, not to hurt them,” said federal worker Ronald Jackson, who commuted 55 miles in to work at the Treasury Department only to be sent home.

If Congress can agree to a new funding bill soon, the shutdown would last days rather than weeks, with relatively little impact on the world’s largest economy.

But the standoff continued on Capitol Hill as the Democratic-controlled Senate formally rejected an offer by House Republicans to break the logjam.

“This shutdown was completely preventable. It should not have happened,” Obama wrote in a letter to government employees.

Whether the shutdown represents another bump in the road for a Congress increasingly plagued by dysfunction or is a sign of a more alarming breakdown in the political process could be determined by the reaction among voters and on Wall Street.

The market appeared to be taking the closure in stride for now. U.S. stocks rose modestly as the S&P 500 .SPX edged up 0.8 percent and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC gained 1.1 percent.

A week-long shutdown would slow U.S. economic growth by about 0.3 percentage points, according to Goldman Sachs, but a longer disruption could weigh on the economy more heavily as furloughed workers scale back personal spending.

The political crisis raised fresh concern about whether Congress can meet a crucial mid-October deadline to raise the government’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling. Some Republicans see that vote as another opportunity to undercut Obama’s healthcare law.

Failure to raise the debt limit would force the country to default on its obligations, dealing a blow to the economy and sending shockwaves around global markets.

A 2011 standoff over the debt ceiling hammered consumer confidence and prompted a first-ever downgrade of the United States’ credit rating.

Analysts say this time it could be worse. Lawmakers back then were fighting over how best to reduce trillion-dollar budget deficits, but this time they are at loggerheads over an issue that does not lend itself to compromise as easily: an expansion of government-supported health benefits to millions of uninsured Americans.

Republicans have voted more than 40 times to repeal or delay “Obamacare,” but they failed to block the launch of its online insurance marketplaces on Tuesday. The program had a rocky start as government Web sites struggled to cope with heavy online traffic.

“What I’m hearing from my constituents at home is if this is the only way to stop the runaway train called the federal government, then we’re willing to try it,” said Texas Senator John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate.

After missing the Monday midnight (0400 GMT) deadline to avert the shutdown, Republicans and Democrats in the House continued a bitter blame game, each side shifting responsibility to the other in efforts to redirect a possible public backlash.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll showed about one-quarter of Americans would blame Republicans, 14 percent would blame Obama and 5 percent would blame Democrats in Congress, while 44 percent said everyone would be to blame.

But the shutdown battles of 1995 and 1996 didn’t substantially affect public’s opinion of then-Democratic President Bill Clinton or his main adversary, Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Gallup polling organization said.

POLITICAL POLARIZATION

This latest shutdown, the culmination of three years of divided government and growing political polarization, was spearheaded by Republicans associated with the conservative Tea Party movement united in their opposition to Obama, their distaste for the president’s healthcare law and their campaign pledges to rein in government spending.

“While I don’t want to shut down government and I would be for short term solutions to keep it open, I think we do sometimes have to take a stand and say: ‘Enough’s enough,'” Republican Senator Rand Paul, a leader of the Tea Party movement, said on CNN.

While some government offices and national parks were shuttered, spending for essential functions related to national security and public safety continued, including pay for U.S. military troops.

Though the impact was likely to be most apparent in the Washington region it will be felt across the country as the federal government maintains offices in every major city and parks and other facilities are spread across all 50 states.

Republican Senator John McCain, who has opposed his party’s efforts to link government spending to Obamacare, said his constituents were angry about the shutdown as landmarks in his home state of Arizona were closed to the public.

“People that had planned for months to go to the Grand Canyon” will be upset to find it closed, he told reporters.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, visiting U.S. ally South Korea early Tuesday, warned that the shutdown would undermine American credibility abroad and lead allies to question the nation’s commitment to treaty obligations.

Some analysts said a brief government shutdown – and a resulting backlash against lawmakers – could cool Republican demands for a showdown over the debt limit.

Others said they were surprised that a shutdown hadn’t happened earlier.

“We have a divided government with such diametrically opposed views, we need a crisis to get any kind of results,” said Republican strategist John Feehery, a former Capitol Hill aide.(Additional reporting by Elvina Nawaguna, Richard Cowan, Susan Heavey and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Karey Van Hall, David Storey and Tim Dobbyn)

Source:http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/01/us-usa-fiscal-idUSBRE98N11220131001

Obama: “I want to make sure that the norm against [the] use of chemical weapons is maintained”

US President Barack Obama has said he will put plans for a US military strike against Syria on hold if the country agrees to place its chemical weapons stockpile under international control.

But he said he was sceptical the Syrian government would follow through.

As the US Congress debates authorising an attack, Russia on Monday proposed Syria relinquish its chemical weapons.

The US accuses Damascus of war crimes including use of chemical weapons, allegations denied by the regime.

The US president on Monday gave a series of television interviews aimed at building support among a US Congress and public wary of new military action in the Middle East.

The president maintains a limited strike is needed to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for the use of chemical weapons and to deter it from using them again.

“I want to make sure that norm against use of chemical weapons is maintained,” Mr Obama told ABC News.

“That’s in our national security interest. If we can do that without a military strike, that is overwhelmingly my preference.”

Asked by Diane Sawyer of ABC News if he would put plans for an attack on pause should Mr Assad yield control of his chemical weapons, Mr Obama answered: “Absolutely, if in fact that happened.”

Mr Obama said he would continue to press the US Congress to back a resolution authorising him to take military action against Syria, but he implied the timeline for action had shifted.

“The stakes are high, but they are long term,” he said, adding that he did not “foresee a succession of votes this week, or any time in the immediate future”.

FSA fighters

On the ground, the Syrian conflict is still raging

But he added: “I don’t think that we would have gotten to this point unless we had maintained a credible possibility of a military strike, and I don’t think now is the time for us to let up on that.”

US senators had been expected to take a first vote on the issue on Wednesday, but the test vote on the legislation was postponed on Monday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who cited “international discussions” as a reason for the delay.

Many US politicians and members of the public remain concerned that military action could draw the nation into a prolonged war and spark broader hostilities in the region.

Support in Congress for a measure authorising attacks on Syria has remained relatively low, with more than 230 of the 433 members in the House of Representatives reportedly either opposed to or likely to oppose strikes as of Friday.

In addition, opinion polls suggest Americans remain wary of a strike against Syria, with only one in five believing that a failure to respond to chemical weapons attacks would embolden other governments, according to an Associated Press poll concluded on Monday.

Meanwhile, a new report by US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said evidence “strongly suggests” Syrian government forces were behind the deadly 21 August chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds of people.

HRW concludes that the nerve agent used in the incident was “most likely sarin”.

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Source:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24026619