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Obama, Republicans meet to end crisis

The US govt was shut down following variance around the Obamacare health system and the debt ceiling.

The White House in Washington, DC. Picture: Stock.XCHNG

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama and Republican leaders appeared ready to end a political crisis that has shuttered much of the US government and pushed the country dangerously close to default after meeting at the White House on Thursday.

No deal emerged from the 90-minute meeting, but talks continued into the night in an effort to re-open the government and extend the government's borrowing authority beyond an October 17 deadline. One senior Republican said an agreement could come on Friday, though hurdles remain.

The plummeting standing of congressional Republicans in public opinion polls helped spur a move toward ending the standoff, Oklahoma Republican Representative James Lankford said on CNN Thursday night. The latest, an NBC-Wall Street Journal survey published on Thursday, showed the public blaming Republicans by a 22-point margin - 53 to 31 percent.

The President's meeting with Republican leaders was the first sign of a thaw in a 10-day standoff that has weighed on financial markets and knocked hundreds of thousands of federal employees out of work.

"It was a very adult conversation," said Republican Representative Hal Rogers, who attended the meeting. "Both sides said they were there in good faith."

Republicans in the meeting offered to extend the government's borrowing authority for several weeks, temporarily putting off a default that otherwise could come as soon as next week. Obama pushed to also reopen government operations that have been closed since October 1.

Significantly, Republicans seemed to be steering clear of the restrictions on Obama's healthcare reforms and spending that prompted the crisis in the first place. Instead, negotiations centred on how far to extend the debt limit and how much funding they would provide the government when it opens, according to Republicans.

The two sides are working on "defining parameters to see if we can make progress," said Republican Representative Pete Sessions, a member of the leadership.

"The President looks forward to making continued progress with members on both sides of the aisle," the White House said in a statement.

The proposal is a significant shift for Republicans, who had hoped to use the threat of a shutdown and a default to undermine Obama's healthcare law.

But they have been hammered in opinion polls and pressured by allies in the business community who worry the strategy is killing jobs and slowing the economy. Republicans worry that the standoff could imperil lawmakers in competitive districts, giving Democrats an increased chance of winning control of the House next year.

Republicans now hope a short-term debt-limit extension, perhaps until the middle or end of November, will buy time to seek spending cuts, a repeal of a medical-device tax, or other measures they say are needed to keep the national debt at a manageable level.

OBAMACARE NOT DISTURBED

The crisis began in late September when Republicans tied continued government funding to measures that would undercut the Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature legislative accomplishment.

The ploy didn't work, as "Obamacare" unveiled its online health-insurance exchanges on October 1 even as much of the rest of the government shut down. Even so, the exchanges have been plagued by serious technical problems unrelated to the shutdown.

In recent days, Republican leaders have emphasised other goals, such as reining in the retirement and health benefit programs that pose a long-term threat to the country's fiscal health.

For the first time in weeks, lawmakers from both parties predicted they would be able to resolve their differences.

Many hurdles remain. Obama has said he will not negotiate on anything until Republicans agree to reopen the government and remove the threat of immediate default.

Rank-and-file Republican conservatives who remain focused on defeating "Obamacare" also could reject the deal. Even if disaster is averted for now, the entire dispute could come to the fore again when the temporary agreement expires.

The Obama administration says it will be unable to pay all of its bills if Congress does not raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling by October 17.

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees have been thrown out of work by the shutdown and individual businesses, from arms makers to motels, have begun to lay off workers as well.

The Labour Department said on Thursday that 15,000 private-sector workers have filed for unemployment benefits due to the shutdown.

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