Obama prepares for government shutdown, hopes for deal


By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON, Sept 30 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obamaon Monday prepared Americans for what he called an "entirelypreventable" government shutdown while urging Republicans inCongress to reach an 11th-hour deal to avoid economic harm.

With no apparent movement in negotiations, the White Houseprepared to put in place a skeleton staff on Tuesday to operateessential functions like the National Security Council. Manystaff were preparing for furloughs of uncertain length.

And Obama's own plans seemed up in the air. He is scheduledto leave Saturday on a four-nation, week-long tour to Asia, buta shutdown could force a postponement.

"We have this trip scheduled, and we intend to take it,"said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "You know, we'll seeobviously what happens as the week unfolds."

Hours before a shutdown was to begin, Obama placed phonecalls to the two top congressional Republicans, House ofRepresentatives Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republicanleader Mitch McConnell, but they appeared to restate well-wornpositions and there was no sign of a breakthrough.

"The president made clear that Congress has two jobs to do:pay the bills on time and pass a budget on time. Failure tofulfill those responsibilities is harmful to our economy, smallbusinesses and middle class families across the country," theWhite House said.

The president and his aides worked to prepare Americans forthe possibility of a shutdown, the resulting impact on the U.S.economy and to pin the blame on Republicans who want to gut hishealthcare law.

"I respect the fact that the other party is not supposed toagree with me 100 percent of the time, just like I don't agreewith them. But they do also expect that we don't bring theentire government to a halt or the entire economy to a halt justbecause of those differences," he said.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama stressedthat mail would be delivered and Social Security payments wouldbe made, but warned that national monuments would closeimmediately to tourists, government office buildings would closeand veteran centers would lack staff if a shutdown took place.

"A shutdown will have a very real economic impact on realpeople, right away. Past shutdowns have disrupted the economysignificantly. This one will too."

The law funding thousands of routine government activitiesexpires at midnight.

Washington edged ever closer to a shutdown as the U.S.Senate, controlled by Democrats, killed a proposal by theRepublican-led House of Representatives to delay Obama'shealthcare law for a year in return for temporary funding of thefederal government beyond Monday.

Obama stressed that the healthcare law, known as Obamacare,would proceed regardless of whether the government shut itsdoors.

Publicly, Obama was optimistic about a last-second deal.Speaking during an Oval Office meeting with visiting IsraeliPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama said he was notresigned to a shutdown happening and in his remarks to reporterslater he said he hoped a deal could still be reached.

"Time is running out. My hope and expectation is that in the11th hour once again that Congress will choose to do the rightthing."

As the hours ticked away toward a shutdown, Obama met withhis Cabinet to discuss the potential disruptions of a shutdownfor their respective agencies and ensure essential operationswill take place.

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