NEW YORK -- The stock market's slow bleed got a little worse Tuesday.

The decline is the result of squabbling in Washington over raising the nation's debt limit and a government shutdown that has dragged on for more than a week. The stock market's moderate losses in the first days of the shutdown have accelerated this week as the U.S. has moved closer to an Oct. 17 deadline for lifting the government's borrowing authority.

Stocks opened flat, moved steadily lower and slumped in the final minutes of trading Tuesday. The loss added to a three-week decline that has knocked the Standard & Poor's 500 index down 4 percent since it hit a record high Sept. 18.

The S&P 500 index dropped 20.67 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,655.45. It was the biggest one-day drop for the index since Aug. 20.

The declines were led by phone companies.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 159.71 points, or 1.1 percent, to 14,776.53. The Nasdaq composite dropped 75.54 points, or 2 percent, to 3,694.83.