Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has appealed for US lawmakers to take action to avert a government shutdown next week, saying it was "astoundingly irresponsible" to try to influence policymaking by triggering a funding crisis.
When you look at the greatest democracy in the world, the largest economy in the world, and we're putting our people through this - that's not leadership, that's abdication of responsibilities.
Hagel, speaking to reporters on Saturday en route to Seoul to mark the 60th anniversary of the US-South Korea defense alliance, said he had spent much of the week working on future spending cuts while planning for a shutdown next week that could force 400,000 civilian defense workers to take unpaid leave.
For many of the civilians it would be the second time in as many months they have been forced to take unpaid leave. More than 600,000 civilian US defense employees were required to take unpaid leave in early August in a bid to reduce spending after across-the-board budget cuts went into force in March.
"When you look at the greatest democracy in the world, the largest economy in the world, and we're putting our people through this - that's not leadership, that's abdication of responsibilities," Hagel said.
"This is an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern," he added, saying he hoped members of Congress would work to find "some common ground to govern and at least make the big decisions in the larger interest of this country."
Funding for many US government operations runs out next week with the start of the new fiscal year on Oct 1, and unless Congress reaches a deal to pay for its activities, much of the government will be forced to shut down. Only certain activities permitted under law are allowed to continue, officials said.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is expected later on Saturday to vote on a bill to fund the US government in the new fiscal year but with a delay on implementation of President Barack Obama's 2010 healthcare law.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, has said the Democratic-controlled Senate would not accept any funding measure aimed at derailing "Obamacare" and the White House has promised to veto the legislation if it passes Congress.
Failure to pass a funding bill would close down much of the government for the first time since 1996.