WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama and congressional leaders appeared no closer to ending a two-day-old government shutdown after meeting for more than an hour Wednesday night.

Obama met with top four congressional leaders at the White House, where leaders reiterated their positions after the meeting: Democrats continue to seek a stopgap funding bill and a debt ceiling increase with no conditions attached, while Republicans continue to mount an effort to seek concessions on the health care law - Obama’s signature programme that provides affordable medical treatment.

Earlier, leaders of major Wall Street financial firms joined in calling for a deal to end the shutdown and the uncertainty over the increase in the debt ceiling, which needs a congressional vote of approval by Oct. 17.

“While the government shutdown is unfortunate, the impacts of a debt default would be magnitudes worse and should not even be considered a viable option,” said Lloyd Blankfein, Chief Executive Officer and chairman of the investment firm Goldman Sachs, in a statement.

“The economic damage associated with default or near-default would be severe and have serious consequences for the recovery of the U.S. and global economy,” said Blankfein,.  The shutdown has also raised the stakes for national security, two of the nation’s top intelligence officials told a Senate panel Wednesday.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,’’ Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The damage will be insidious as this goes on.’’

Clapper said 70% of the civilian workforce had been furloughed as part of the shutdown, which the director said has “created a dreamland for foreign intelligence services to recruit’’ U.S. personnel.

National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander said 4,000 computer scientists and 1,000 other scientists are among those furloughed.

Obama’s request for a meeting, coupled with a letter by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to House Speaker John Boehner, opened a proxy fight between the various sides’ spokesmen.

“The president made clear to the Leaders that he is not going to negotiate over the need for Congress to act to reopen the government or to raise the debt limit to pay the bills Congress has already incurred,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “The president reinforced his view that the House should put the clean government funding bill that has been passed by the Senate up for a vote - a bill that would pass a majority of the House with bipartisan support.”

“The president is glad that the leaders were able to engage in this useful discussion this evening,” Carney added.

“They will not negotiate,” House Speaker John Boehner, Republican,  said. “We had a nice conversation, a polite conversation, but at some point we’ve got to allow the process that our founders gave us to work out.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat,  and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, also didn’t budge.

Reid repeated what the president has long maintained, that Democrats won’t barter over Republican-desired changes to “Obamacare”, the health programme, with the twin swords of the shutdown and a possible default on the nation’s credit hanging over their heads.

“We are locked in tight on Obamacare,” Reid said to reporters gathered in the driveway outside the West Wing.

So, the federal government remains closed on Thursday as the nation’s leaders refuse to deal with one another in real terms, preferring to deliver missives in the form of letters, press conferences.

The state- and federal-run websites where people can shop for and buy health insurance opened Tuesday. They have experienced more than 4.7 million visitors, which has also led the sites to crash or cause long waits.

Senate Democrats and Obama oppose the piecemeal approach and continue to call on Republicans to approve the Senate-passed stopgap funding bill through Nov. 15 that has no provisions affecting the health care law. Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, a Democrat, challenged Boehner to allow a vote on the bill, which appears to have the support to pass on the votes of Democrats and moderate Republicans.

“What is (Boehner) so afraid of?” Durbin said on the Senate floor.

Pelosi, the House minority leader, has said she can deliver most of the Democrats’ 200 House votes, and more than a dozen House Republicans have publicly said they would support a “clean” stopgap bill without provisions affecting the Obamacare.

One of those Republicans, Congressman Michael Grimm said he is working with a coalition of members and leadership to find a compromise. “I’m willing to do that and there are many members that are going to make that push,” he told CNN’s New Day.

Republicans are looking for ways to pass the stopgap bill and negotiate with Senate Democrats on a vote to raise the debt ceiling, the nation’s borrowing limit.

“There is a strong possibility, if (Democrats) were willing to at least sit down and listen to us, that we could put a package together to solve all of these problems at once so we can get the government funded, stop this shutdown and also deal with the debt ceiling so that we don’t have another crisis a week or two away from now,” Grimm said.