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Blame Game Starts As Federal Government Shuts Down

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Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
WASHINGTON -

"Government is closed, because of the irrationality of what is going on on the other side of the Capitol," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the floor of the Senate Tuesday morning. "They'd rather see the government shut down than do anything to protect the American people from the consequences of Obamacare," countered Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

With the parts of the federal government officially closed for business today - and no path out of the political gridlock in sight - lawmakers are trying to assign blame for the first government shutdown in 17 years.

President Obama in particular laid the blame on thick in an afternoon news conference where he said a small group of lawmakers were responsible for an ideologically-driven "Republican shutdown."

"One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government shut down major parts of the government all because they didn't like one law," Mr. Obama said. "This Republican shut down did not have to happen, but I want every American to understand why it did happen. Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to fund the government unless we defunded or dismantled the Affordable Care Act. They've shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job."

The House and Senate spent the better part of Monday and the early hours of Tuesday morning passing back and forth a short-term spending bill with no agreement. Even after midnight, when funding to keep the government open had run out, the House still voted to send the bill back to the Senate. That legislation, in addition to funding the government, also included an amendment to delay the individual mandate in Obamacare for one year and eliminate subsidies for Congressional staffers buying healthcare in the new exchanges. It also appointed eight Republican members to participate in a budget conference with the Senate, something Democrats in the upper chamber had been requesting for months to no avail.

But Reid had already sent the Senate home for the night after vowing that he and his colleagues "will not go to conference with a gun to our head." When he opened the chamber at 9:30 Tuesday morning, the Senate voted along party lines to strip out the amendments and send it back to the House.

During the night, lawmakers traded barbs on Twitter using hashtags like #GOPShutdown (the Democrats) and #HarryReidsShutdown (Republicans). This morning - as an expected 800,000 federal workers headed to their offices to officially put their work on hold - the back and forth continued on cable news. Words like "extremists" and "anarchists" have been thrown around (by Democrats).

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a constant thorn in the side of the administration, insisted on CNN's New Day that the GOP had not shut down the government. "If the Senate at 9:30 this morning opens up and rejects the offer to have a conference, which is an offer to go to compromise, then they're rejecting the constitutional process," he said.

Unfortunately for Republicans, early polling on the government shutdown does not favor their strategy. A Quinnipiac University National Poll released Tuesday morning shows that by a margin of 72 percent to 22 percent, American voters oppose a government shutdown over attempts to block the Affordable Care Act. And though voters are divided on the law itself, with 45 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed, 58 percent of those surveyed said they opposed cutting off funding a way to stop it from being implemented.

A CBS News/New York Times poll released last week revealed that Republicans may take more blame for the shutdown: 44 percent of Americans would blame Republicans in Congress more for a shutdown, 35 percent would blame Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats more.

My mid-morning on Tuesday, the path out of the shutdown seemed no clearer than it had been Monday afternoon. Mr. Obama is expected to address the nation at 12:25 p.m., but he seems unlikely to agree to any spending bill that touches the healthcare law.

"I shouldn't have to offer anything," Mr. Obama told NPR's Steve Inskeep in an interview that aired Wednesday morning, after Inskeep asked what he could offer. "They're not doing me a favor by paying for things that they have already approved for the government to do. That's part of their basic function of government; that's not doing me a favor. That's doing what the American people sent them here to do, carrying out their responsibilities."

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