Kerry to head delegation; federal workers may get relief

President Barack Obama cancelled a trip to Asia to stay in Washington to get the federal government back up and running after days of a shutdown, with no end in sight.

Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Bali, Indonesia, on Friday and will head the U.S. delegation to the summits.

Mr. Obama’s decision to skip the summits in Indonesia and Brunei was an indication of how entrenched the stand-off appeared to be as it entered its fourth day. Funding for much of the government has been cut off since Tuesday, when a Republican effort to thwart President Barack Obama’s new healthcare law stalled a normally routine spending bill that would have kept the government going.

Mr. Obama had been set to leave Saturday night for Bali for a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). It originally was scheduled as one of four Asian stops, and the White House announced earlier in the week that the final legs of Malaysia and the Philippines were being cut because of staffing problems due to the shutdown. Mr. Obama had held out hope that a budget deal would allow the visit to Bali and Brunei, where more economic summits were planned, but decided the cancel the entire trip on Thursday.

On Friday, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives planned a vote to fund a popular program providing food aid to pregnant women and their children, as well as ongoing disaster relief. The White House and Democratic allies in Congress reject the strategy of passing piecemeal efforts to finance essential and popular programs and want a vote on a straightforward measure to fund the entire government through mid-November or mid-December.

Furloughed federal workers were expected to get some relief with legislation authorising back pay due for a vote on Friday or Saturday.

Mr. Obama and his Treasury Department also said failure to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, expected to hit its $16.7 trillion cap in mid-October, could precipitate an economic nosedive worse than the recent Great Recession. A default could cause the nation’s credit markets to freeze, the value of the dollar to plummet and U.S. interest rates to skyrocket, according to a Treasury report on Thursday.

The speaker’s office reiterated Mr. Boehner’s past assertion that he would not let the government default on its debt.

“But if we’re going to raise the debt limit, we need to deal with the drivers of our debt and deficits,” his spokesman, Michael Steel, said. “That’s why we need a bill with cuts and reforms to get our economy moving again.”

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