He spoke in a Capitol closed to regular public tours, part of the impact of a partial shutdown that sent ripples of disruption outward — from museums and memorials in Washington to Yellowstone and other national parks and to tax auditors and federal offices serving Americans coast to coast.
Officials said roughly 800,000 federal employees would be affected by the shutdown after a half-day on the job Tuesday to fill out time cards, put new messages on their voice mail and similar chores.
Among those workers were some at the National Institute of Health's famed hospital of last resort, where officials said no new patients would be admitted for the duration of the shutdown. Dr. Francis Collins, agency director, estimated that each week the shutdown lasts will force the facility to turn away about 200 patients, 30 of them children, who want to enroll in studies of experimental treatments. Patients already at the hospital are permitted to stay.
Late Tuesday, House Republicans sought swift passage of legislation aimed at reopening small slices of the federal establishment. The bills covered the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Park Service and a portion of the Washington, D.C., government funded with local tax revenue.
Senate Democrats announced their opposition, saying Republicans shouldn't be permitted to choose which agencies should open and which remain shut.
Ironically, a major expansion of the health care law — the very event Republicans had hoped to prevent — was unaffected as consumers flocked for the first time Tuesday to websites to shop for coverage sold by private companies.
The talk of joining the current fight — the Republicans are trying to sidetrack the health care law by holding up funding for the fiscal year that began at midnight Monday — to a dispute involving the national debt limit suggested the shutdown could go on for some time.
The administration says the ceiling must be raised by mid-month, and Republicans have long vowed to seek cuts in spending at the same time, a condition Obama has rejected.
In Washington, some Republicans conceded privately they might bear the brunt of any public anger over the shutdown — and seemed resigned to an eventual surrender in their latest bruising struggle with Obama.
Democrats have "all the leverage and we've got none," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said sardonically his party was following a "Ted Cruz-lemmings strategy" — a reference to the senator who is a prime proponent of action against the health care overhaul — and Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia said it was time to pass legislation reopening the government without any health care impediments. "The shutdown is hurting my district — including the military and the hard-working men and women who have been furloughed due to the defense sequester," he said.
But that was far from the majority view among House Republicans, where tea party-aligned lawmakers prevailed more than a week ago on a reluctant leadership to link federal funding legislation to "Obamacare." In fact, some conservatives fretted the GOP had already given in too much.
Gone is the Republican demand for a full defunding of the health care law as the price for essential federal funding. Gone, too, are the demands for a one-year delay in the law, a permanent repeal of a medical device tax and a provision making it harder for women to obtain contraceptive coverage.