The United States federal government is in danger of being shut down by the end of this week unless a disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on the level of budget cuts is resolved by then.

Speaking to media here U.S. President Barack Obama lashed out at the House of Representatives’ Republican leadership for refusing to meet him halfway on cuts worth $33 billion that the Democrats believed they could support.

Arguing that the true level of cuts that the Democrats had now agreed was actually $73 billion, Mr. Obama said, “Speaker Boehner[’s]... original budget proposed $73 billion in cuts. We have now agreed to $73 billion worth of cuts. What they are now saying is, well, we are not sure that every single one of the cuts that you have made are ones that we agree to; we would rather have these cuts rather than that cut. That is not the basis for shutting down the government.”

If the shutdown occurs, as it last did when Democratic President Bill Clinton clashed with a Republican-controlled Congress in the mid-1990s, it would imply that payments to military veterans, passport applications, visits to national parks and monuments and loans to small businesses would be massively disrupted. The Pentagon and emergency services would remain unaffected, according to sources.

Addressing Mr. Obama’s unwillingness to take on board a budget proposing radical cuts worth $5.8 trillion over 10 years, Mr. Boehner said, “I am disappointed but not surprised that the White House has chosen to attack Chairman [of the House Budget Committee, Paul] Ryan’s budget proposal... Instead, he presented Congress with a budget that punts on the drivers of our debt while raising taxes by $1.5 trillion, a sure-fire recipe for destroying jobs in America.”

According to experts in the Heritage Foundation think tank, who briefed The Hindu last week, Republicans are keen to get cuts in some of the mandatory spending programmes such as Medicare and Medicaid, whereas Democrats have thus far only offered cuts in discretionary spending.

However President Obama defended his party’s approach and said that he would not budge on his refusal to cut into programmes such as Head Start, a policy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families.

Mr. Obama also reiterated his intention to hold meetings with Mr. Boehner, Mr. Ryan and others throughout this week to arrive at a solution. Yet, he said, the one option that he was against entirely was for Congress and the White House to yet again pass a short-term extension of the spending limit.

He said, “We did it once for two weeks, then we did another one for three weeks. That is not a way to run a government. I can’t have our agencies making plans based on two-week budgets. I can’t have the Defence Department, I can’t have the State Department, I can’t have our various agencies on food safety and making sure our water is clean and making sure that our airports are functioning, I can’t have them making decisions based on two-week-at-a-time budgets.”

More In: International | News