On shutdown’s 9th day, survivors of fallen troops take center stage

Posted at 7:30 AM, Oct 09, 2013

By Josh Levs and Tom Cohen

WASHINGTON (CNN) — When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visits Dover Air Force Base Wednesday, he won’t just be honoring troops killed in Afghanistan. His presence will also send a message about the government shutdown.

Hagel will attend a ceremony for the return of soldiers’ remains — at a time the families of those service members are not receiving the standard benefits typically given to them.

Due to the partial federal government shutdown, those benefits, which include a $100,000 payment, are being withheld.

It’s the “worst nightmare” for military families, says Amy Neiberger-Miller of TAPS, a support network for families of the fallen.

Lawmakers in the House are scheduled to vote Wednesday to resume “appropriations for death gratuities and related survivor benefits.”

Also Wednesday, the House Democratic caucus is invited to a meeting at the White House in the afternoon to discuss the shutdown and the need for a debt limit increase, a White House official told CNN. Other caucuses will be invited in the coming days, the official said.

The plight of military families is just the latest fallout from the shutdown as it enters Day 9.

President Barack Obama said Tuesday he is ready to talk, even on Republicans’ terms, as long as Congress acts first to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling — even for a short period.

At a news conference, Obama indicated Republicans could essentially set the agenda for budget negotiations, but only if Congress agrees first to a short-term spending plan to fund the government and to raise the federal borrowing limit to avoid a possible first-ever U.S. default next week.

“I will talk about anything,” the president said.

House Speaker John Boehner, speaking Tuesday afternoon after what he called a “pleasant” but ineffectual phone call with Obama, promptly rejected the president’s comments as nothing new.

“What the president said today was if there’s unconditional surrender by Republicans, he’ll sit down and talk to us,” Boehner said. “That’s not the way our government works.”

At the same time, Boehner said he’s “hopeful” top Republicans and Democrats could soon begin a “conversation.”

“There’s going to be a negotiation here,” the Ohio Republican said. “We can’t raise the debt ceiling without doing something about what’s driving it to borrow more money and live beyond our means.”

Yet while Boehner didn’t indicate any points of agreement, a senior House Republican told CNN that GOP members may be willing to go for a short-term debt ceiling hike — lasting four to six weeks — as long as the president agrees negotiations will occur during that time.

Still, it’s no guarantee such a measure would be supported by a majority of Republicans, something that Boehner has traditionally required before calling any vote in the House.

A second GOP source says the White House drawing a line in the sand not to negotiate has further complicated matters. Republican leaders have talked, though, to CEOs who called them at the request of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett.

And if there’s no breakthrough? The shutdown — which began October 1, after the GOP-led House tied its funding measures to dismantling or defunding Obama’s signature health care reform law — continues. Plus, another crisis looms October 17, when the Treasury Department says the U.S. government must raise the amount of money it can borrow or else be unable to pay its bills.

All the partisan bickering — and lack of progress — is taking its toll not just on furloughed workers, shuttered government facilities and programs, but also on Americans’ confidence in their government.

Looking directly in the camera, Obama acknowledged frustrations with what’s going in Washington in terms of the current impasse and all the other budgetary battles preceding it.

“We’ve got to stop repeating this pattern,” the president said. “I apologize you have to go through this stuff every three months, it seems like. And Lord knows, I’m tired of it. But at some point we’ve got to break these habits.”

Poll: Most angry at both parties

While the two parties blame each other in Washington, outside the capital few get off easy.

In a national poll released Monday, most respondents said the government shutdown was causing a crisis or major problems for the country.

The CNN/ORC International survey indicated that slightly more people were angry at Republicans than Democrats or Obama for the shutdown, though both sides took a hit.

According to the poll conducted over the weekend, 63% of respondents said they were angry at the Republicans for the way they have handled the shutdown, while 57% expressed anger at Democrats and 53% at Obama.

“It looks like there is more than enough blame to go around, and both parties are being hurt by the shutdown,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

CNN’s Jim Acosta, Deirdre Walsh, Barbara Starr, Ted Barrett, Greg Botelho, Dana Bash and Brianna Keilar contributed to this report.

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