Obama urges Congress to reopen government, avoid default

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, in a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Monday to spotlight the loss of government services because of the shutdown, urged Congress to reopen government and raise the debt limit immediately.

"My very strong suspicion is there are enough votes there" to pass legislation, he said. "Hold a vote. Call a vote right now. Let's see what happens."

FEMA had recalled employees who were idled in the shutdown to deal with Tropical Storm Karen but the storm has weakened and Obama said the agency would now send about 100 of them home.

The federal government shut down most of its operations and idled all but its most essential workers October 1 after congressional Republicans continued to make defunding or delaying healthcare laws part of spending bills.

The country faces the possibility of a debt default if lawmakers do not raise the federal borrowing cap by October 17.

Congressional Republicans have similarly insisted on White House concessions for doing so, and Obama has said he would not negotiate over raising the debt limit.

Obama said at FEMA that he would be happy to hold talks with congressional Republicans on healthcare or other issues, but not under the threat of shutdown or debt default.

A default would have "catastrophic impacts" on the U.S. economy, a White House official told reporters.

(Reporting By Steve Holland, Mark Felsenthal and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Sandra Maler)