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Further White House talks in US budget deadlock postponed

Talks between President Barack Obama and senior politicians from both houses of Congress over ending a government shutdown have been postponed. Time is running short to solve the two-week-old impasse.

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On Monday, several leading US politicians said that they were making progress on deals to end the country's partial government shutdown and increase its borrowing limit.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said on Monday that his house of the US Congress might be able to present a new proposal to the president. "We're getting closer," Reid said when asked about a possible Senate deal.

Amid these comparatively positive sounds from both Democrat and Republican Senators, the White House announced another top-level gathering for Monday evening. However, the meeting was postponed indefinitely to give lawmakers more time to work.

President Barack Obama and his deputy Joe Biden are to be joined at the meeting by the four Congressional leaders from both parties. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner were set to attend, along with Senator Reid and his Democrat colleague in the lower house, Nancy Pelosi.

On Monday, Obama said at a charity appointment that he hoped "a spirit of cooperation will move us forward over the next few hours," also warning lawmakers that time was running out.

Ticking clock

"If we don't start making some real progress both in the House and the Senate, and if Republicans aren't willing to set aside some of their partisan concerns in order to do what's right for the country, we stand a good chance of defaulting," Obama said.

US politicians are seeking agreements on a pair of crucial pieces of legislation - one to restart funding to federal programs deemed nonessential and shut down at the beginning of the month and the other to raise Washington's "debt ceiling," the amount of money the government is permitted to borrow.

Currently, this debt ceiling is set at $16.7 trillion (12.3 trillion euros). Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has warned that the US might not be able to meet existing obligations as early as Thursday, October 17.

The legislation ground to a halt amid a bipartisan dispute over Obama's healthcare reforms, with Republicans pushing for a freeze on the policy's introduction in exchange for opening the fiscal taps. Democrats have so far said this issue is non-negotiable, saying the Affordable Care Act was approved by the Supreme Court and also at the polls when Obama won re-election last year.

Any Senate proposal - which would require approval from the Republican-controlled lower House of Representatives - was expected to be a simple, and probably temporary, deal aiming only to bring the stalemate to a close.

msh/ph (AP, Reuters)

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