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Government shutdown: Default now focus, as Treasury warns of 'catastrophe' (+video)

On Day 3 of government shutdown, Democrats and Republicans shift the conversation to the looming debt limit, as chances grow that both issues will be resolved together.

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House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R) calls it the “enforcing mechanism,” citing budget deals in 2011, 1987, and 1985 as precedents.

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“All of those budget agreements came together because of debt limits,” Representative Ryan told reporters Tuesday. “That’s what we think will be the forcing action to bring us, the two parties, together.”

Obama is also focusing increasingly on the debt ceiling. At a White House meeting Wednesday with Wall Street leaders, he warned them to be concerned about GOP hard-liners, saying in a TV interview that the deadlock is more than just the usual disagreements between Democrats and Republicans. Then he turned up the heat on a “faction” of congressional Republicans.

“When you have a situation in which a faction is willing, potentially, to default on US government obligations, then we are in trouble,” Obama said in the interview on CNBC.

A meeting at the White House Wednesday between Obama and congressional leaders produced no breakthroughs. Boehner complained afterwards that Obama told them “he will not negotiate.” Senate majority leader Harry Reid, the top Democrat on Capitol Hill, again ruled out any concessions on “Obamacare.”

And so on this third day of the partial government shutdown, which has put 800,000 federal workers on unpaid furlough, no resolution is in sight. Budget analysts who have lived through many a government shutdown, including the combined 26 days the government was closed in late 1995 and early 1996, say that now that the 2013 shutdown has started, chances of an early resolution are diminished.

“I expect the government shutdown to last at least until early next week and possibly until October 18th,” writes Pete Davis, a former congressional budget staffer.

Another former Capitol Hill budget veteran says that once the shutdown reaches the one-week mark, that creates momentum toward combined action on government funding and the debt limit.

“If it lasts a week, two weeks is very likely, because that’ll get us close to the time we have to deal with the debt ceiling,” says Stan Collender, now a partner at Qorvis Communications, speaking on Post TV.

Now that the government shutdown has started, the chance of a debt ceiling breach is now 1 in 4, Mr. Collender says, higher than it was before the shutdown began.

But for the politics of the shutdown to change, he says the shutdown needs to go at least a week.

“It’s not just the people who want to go to a national park,” he says. “It’s the people who sell doughnuts to the coffee shop across the street from the IRS office. They’ve got to start to complain about it. It’ll take about it a week for government contractors to start feeling the pain, for them to realize that the checks they were expecting aren’t being issued.”

Resolving the government-funding impasse and raising the debt ceiling together are possible, he says, but the Republicans have to get something out of it. “It’s hard to see at the moment what that would be,” he says, “but we know it won’t be health care.”

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