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High drama on Capitol Hill as tempers flare, leaders fail to reach deal

 

Despite an emergency meeting at the White House, congressional leaders reported no progress late Wednesday on trying to reach a budget deal -- while over on Capitol Hill, tempers were flaring and lawmakers were melting down on the floor of the House.

The top four congressional leaders took a stab, during an hour-long White House meeting, at negotiating with President Obama over the impasse. There was no breakthrough.

House Speaker John Boehner emerged saying he had a "nice, polite conversation" but complaining that Obama would not budge off his demand that Congress pass a straight budget bill -- one that does not impede ObamaCare in any way. Boehner wants to launch formal negotiations over the now-stalled short-term spending bill, but Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid says talks over "anything" can only start after the House approves it.

"We're through playing these little games," Reid said, with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi by his side.

The White House later issued a statement saying Obama had made it clear to the leaders "he is not going to negotiate over the need for Congress to act to reopen the government or to raise the debt limit." It added the president was "glad" the leaders could engage "in this useful discussion."

Over at the House, lawmakers let loose. Lawmakers spent the evening shouting at each other, as they considered a series of votes on mini-spending bills but got no closer to a deal that could re-open the entire government. In perhaps the most intense exchange, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., repeatedly accused his GOP colleagues of waging "jihad" on Americans.

Miller, who was a champion of the federal health care law when it was being drafted, claimed Republicans who are now complaining about the national parks being closed did not show the same concern over health care. He said: "When you were on the jihad against Americans' access to health care, shutting down the parks wasn't a problem. Shutting down NIH wasn't a problem."

Miller was then ruled "out of order." After he left the floor, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said he was "disgusted" by Miller's comments.

"We should all reject his comments," Simpson said, adding that Miller should be formally censured "but I won't call for it."

The House was considering a suite of mini-spending bills. On Wednesday evening, the chamber approved one bill to fund the National Park Service, on a 252-173 vote, and another bill to fund the National Institutes of Health, on a 254-171 vote.

The House earlier approved a measure to let the District of Columbia spend its own money during the budget impasse.

"The House will continue to pass bills that reflect the American people's priorities," Mike Steel, spokesman for Boehner, said.

On the agenda for Thursday are separate bills to fund the Department of Veteran Affairs and National Guard.

Democrats, though, have labeled that a piecemeal approach and vowed to reject it. The White House threatened to veto the measures in the unlikely event they made it to Obama's desk.

Democrats' argument is that the best way for Republicans to address the problems of a partial government shutdown is to allow for a House vote on a standalone spending bill. Thus far, Republicans have insisted that the bill include provisions chipping away at ObamaCare.

"We can stop this today," said Rep. Louise Slaughter D-N.Y., urging Republicans to allow a vote on a government-wide budget bill.

But an attempt by Democrats to force shutdown-ending legislation to the House floor failed on a 227-197 vote, with all Republicans in opposition.

A sampling of federal agencies showed how unevenly the shutdown was felt across the government.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development listed only six percent of their employees as essential, and therefore permitted to work during the impasse. James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence, said about 70 percent of civilian employees in agencies under his control had been sent home.

The White House said Obama would have to truncate a long-planned trip to Asia, calling off the final two stops in Malaysia and the Philippines.

Obama's call to lawmakers to meet drew a quizzical response earlier in the day from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. A spokesman, Don Stewart, said, "we're a little confused as to the purpose."

Boehner was "pleased the president finally recognized that his refusal to negotiate is indefensible," said his spokesman, Brendan Buck. "It's unclear why be having this meeting if it's not meant to be a start to serious talks between the two parties."

Responding to the House's call for formal negotiations on the shutdown, health care and other issues, Reid wrote to the speaker to say he would agree, but only if the House first agreed to reopen the government.

Boehner rejected that.

The NIH bill was added to the day's agenda after Democrats said seriously ill patients would be turned away from the facility's hospital of last resort, and no new enrollment permitted in experimental treatments.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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