Obama, House Republicans dig in their heels on shutdown's first day

President Obama and House Republicans dug in their heels Tuesday as federal agencies began to go dark in the first government shutdown since 1996.

Lawmakers returning to the Capitol Tuesday morning wasted no time casting blame across the aisle for Congress's failure to avert a federal shutdown, but they appeared no closer to a deal to reopen the government.

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The Senate opened its day by rejecting a House bill proposing a conference on a government funding bill.

It was just the latest party-line 54-46 vote in the Senate, marking the third time that Democrats have voted down legislation from the lower chamber since Monday.

“The government is closed,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. “All over America, federal employees are getting furloughs this morning … because of the irrationality that is going on in the other side of the Capitol.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), flanked by the party’s seven other conferees, sought to place the blame squarely on Senate Democrats at a press event that included a set of empty chairs that he said should be Senate conferees. 

“Clearly, the Senate has demonstrated that it is not willing to engage in the legislative process. And that is why the House and the Speaker took the position of appointing conferees, so we can actually get down to business and talk through our differences,” Cantor told reporters.

He insisted, however, that the two parties had found some common ground in recent days, including sending a bill to President Obama’s desk that ensured that troops get paid during the shutdown.

“There are a lot of areas that we do have agreement," Cantor said. "But again, I point to you and note that this table is empty on the other side. And we need the Senate Democrats to come join us.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), speaking on the Senate floor, also criticized Democrats for not being willing to talk, and accused them of rooting for a shutdown all along.

“Democratic leaders in Congress finally have their prize — a government shutdown that no one seems to want but them,” McConnell said.

Many Democrats have seen a shutdown as something that could help them in next year’s elections, as polls show voters place more blame on Republicans.

President Obama said in a letter to furloughed federal workers that they didn’t deserve to be treated as a “punching bag.”

He has blamed Republicans for shutting down the government by tying measures to defund or delay the healthcare law to legislation to keep the government operating.

“This shutdown was completely preventable. It should not have happened,” he wrote.

“And the House of Representatives can end it as soon as it follows the Senate's lead, and funds your work in the United States Government without trying to attach highly controversial and partisan measures in the process.”

GOP efforts to win the blame game have been hampered by infighting that has been evident since last week, when Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) tangled on the Senate floor.

A few centrist House Republicans voted Monday against their party’s latest effort to fund the government and called for a clean measure to fund the government.

While GOP leadership stood firm, more cracks in Republican unity began to surface Tuesday, when Reps. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) and Scott Rigell (R-Va.) both called for the House to agree to a short-term spending measure stripped of any provisions targeting ObamaCare.

Meehan said on Twitter that he came to D.C. not to shut down government but to fix it.

“It’s time for House to vote for a clean, short-term funding bill to bring Senate to the table,” he tweeted.

With that move, Meehan and Rigell joined a couple more centrist members of the GOP conference, Reps. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.), in calling to abandon the current Republican strategy.

House Republicans are set to meet at 1 p.m. to plot their next moves in the fight.

The shutdown of the government has closed national parks and monuments, and furloughed about 800,000 federal workers.

But while some economists have warned of trouble for the economy from the shutdown, markets rose Tuesday morning after falling Monday.

The Dow Jones was up nearly 70 points in trading just before noon.

Some lawmakers predicted a shutdown could last a matter of weeks, with neither side showing any willingness to back down.

That would run the funding fight into a separate battle over raising the debt ceiling, which economists have warned could have a much more serious effect on the global economy.

The Treasury Department has said Congress must raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling by Oct. 17.

Obama has said he would not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling, and Republicans have connected demands to cut spending and defund the healthcare law to hiking the borrowing limit.

— Dustin Weaver and Mike Lillis contributed to this story.