US PRESIDENT Barack Obama was due last night to hold his first talks with Republican leaders since the government shutdown crisis began.
Nearly 48 hours after swathes of the US government closed and 800,000 workers were put on unpaid leave, Mr Obama and his Republican opponents were to meet in the White House, amid warnings from the military and intelligence community that the shutdown is causing serious damage to US security.
Both sides were expected to hold firm to their positions, with the president refusing to accede to Republican demands for a delay of his healthcare law, and neither side predicted a breakthrough.
Mr Obama's meeting with John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, is the first time he has seen his chief opponent since a September 3 meeting about Syria. The two men spoke briefly by phone on Monday, just hours before the deadline to avert a shutdown.
As the political gridlock continued in Washington, Mr Obama cancelled stops in Malaysia and the Philippines during his trip to Asia next week, telling the countries' leaders that his travel was limited by the crisis.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said the shutdown was an "insidious" threat to national security that would increase the longer employees were not working. "This affects our global capability to support the military, to support diplomacy and foreign policy matters," he told the US Senate judiciary committee.
General Ray Odierno, the US army chief of staff, warned that the military's day-to-day operations were being damaged. "The longer it goes on, the worse it gets," he said.
Nearly a million public workers across America spent a second day on unpaid leave, parks remained closed and cancer patients were turned away from the government's National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In an effort to relieve some of the pain, Republicans were moving ahead yesterday with a number of "piecemeal" funding bills that would reopen the most high-profile closures, including the NIH and national parks.
Democrats rejected the approach, saying the only solution was a complete reopening of the government.
"They took hostages by shutting down the government and now they're releasing one hostage at a time," said Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House.
The White House said it would veto the bills, saying they were not "a serious or responsible way to run the United States government".
Mr Boehner accused Mr Obama of a "scorched-earth policy of refusing to negotiate in a bipartisan way" on budget issues or healthcare. (© Daily Telegraph, London)