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Obama calls impact of government shutdown 'heartbreaking'

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and Vice President Joe Biden (2nd L) talk to reporters before ordering at a sandwich shop near the White Hou
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and Vice President Joe Biden (2nd L) talk to reporters before ordering at a sandwich shop near the White Hou

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saying the U.S. government shutdown was having a "heartbreaking" impact on ordinary Americans, President Barack Obama on Saturday renewed his call on congressional Republicans to end the five-day stalemate and pass a funding bill without conditions.

Republicans in the House of Representatives have held firm in their refusal to fund and reopen the government until Democrats agree to delay implementation of Obama's landmark 2010 healthcare law, also known as Obamacare.

In his weekly radio address, Obama ratcheted up the pressure on Republicans, describing the toll the shutdown was having on several people who had either lost access to government services or been temporarily displaced from their jobs.

Kelly Mumper, an early education worker with three children in the military, was one of 150 workers who had to stop providing care for 770 children enrolled in an early childhood education facility in Alabama, the president said.

"I am extremely concerned for the welfare of these children," Obama quoted Mumper as saying in a letter she wrote him.

Obama recounted another story about Julia Pruden, a North Dakota woman who said she wouldn't get a loan to buy a house under a Department of Agriculture rural development program in the event of a government shutdown.

"These are just a few of the many heartbreaking letters I've gotten from them in the past couple weeks - including more than 30,000 over the past few days," he said. "I know that Republicans in the House of Representatives are hearing the same kinds of stories."

The standoff, which began at the start of the new fiscal year on Tuesday and shuttered all but essential government operations, is the latest in a series of budget standoffs between Obama and congressional Republicans.

In the past, Republicans have insisted on spending cuts as the price for budget deals or lifting of the government debt limit. Their current stand is aimed at derailing Obamacare, which will expand insurance to millions without coverage.

Republicans argue that the law is a massive government intrusion into private medicine that will cause insurance premiums to skyrocket.

Obama and his fellow Democrats vow that they will make no such concessions in exchange for an agreement to reopen the government. A meeting between Obama and congressional leaders from both parties on Wednesday saw neither side budge.

Republicans are also seeking concessions in exchange for raising the nation's $16.7 trillion debt limit, which is due to be reached October 17. If the borrowing cap is not increased, the United States will go into default, with what officials and economists say would be seriously damaging consequences for the U.S. and global economies.

Republicans fault the deadlock on the White House, saying the president is stubbornly refusing to compromise. The president has said that he is open to bartering over budget issues, but not under the threat of a shutdown, and that raising the debt limit - and avoiding default - is non-negotiable.

The president canceled a week-long trip to Asia next week to deal with the crisis.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Paul Simao)

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