Federal Government Shutdown Begins
WASHINGTON - Parts of the federal government officially shut down at 12:01 Tuesday morning after Congress played hot potato with a spending bill for several hours but failed to come to an agreement to fully fund normal operations.
By midday Monday, the congressional debate had fallen into a predictable pattern and a shutdown seemed inevitable. The House would pass a version of the spending bill that delayed or chipped away at the Affordable Care Act. The Senate would proceed to strip the bill of its amendments, pass it, and send it back to the House, and the cycle would start again.
Late Monday night, in a last ditch effort to end the ping-ponging between the House and Senate, House Republicans offered to setup a bipartisan conference committee to negotiate the differences between the House and Senate bills. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., rejected that proposal outright, repeating his mantra that the Senate isn't interested in passing anything but a "clean" spending bill and that they won't be forced to negotiate "with a gun to our head." Senate Democrats also pointed out that they had been calling for a bipartisan conference for months, a request that had been brushed off by House Republicans.
Earlier Monday, President Obama placed calls to Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Monday afternoon, but did not seem to be looking for a negotiating partner. He reiterated his preference for a "clean" spending bill free of any amendments and said he would continue to oppose any attempts to defund or delay the healthcare law, a White House official said.
In the morning, an estimated 800,000 of the 2.1 million federal workers who are deemed nonessential for the operations of the government will be sent home after they have shut down their work. Only employees who are necessary to ensure national security and protect Americans' lives and property will be allowed to work, albeit without pay, along with a few other types of workers.
The Office of Management and Budget instructed agencies just before midnight that they should "execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations."
The House and Senate passed a bill, which Mr. Obama signed late Monday night, ensuring that active-duty military personnel and those who support them will be paid through the shutdown.
In a video address to military personnel, Mr. Obama lamented the shutdown saying, "unfortunately, Congress has not fulfilled its responsibility. It has failed to pass a budget and, as a result, much of our government must now shut down until Congress funds it again."
He added that uniformed military will remain on normal duty status but to the Defense Department's civilian force, he said, "I know the days ahead could mean more uncertainty, including possible furloughs.
"You and your families deserve better than the dysfunction we're seeing in Congress."
Federal benefits like Social Security and Medicare will remain open, and mail will be delivered, but other operations will cease. The National Parks and Smithsonian Museums will be closed to the public, Americans will be unable to submit new applications for federal programs, and many routine food-safety inspections will be suspended, among other things.
While the budget stalemate stems from the GOP's insistence on dismantling or delaying the health care law, one of the major portions of Obamacare goes into effect on Tuesday. Open enrollment begins Tuesday on the state-based, online marketplaces where consumers will be able to purchase private health insurance coverage.
While many other government operations came to a halt Tuesday morning, the Affordable Care Act is largely funded through mandatory spending and multi-year appropriations that continue through a government shutdown.
"The Affordable Care Act is moving forward," Mr. Obama said Monday afternoon. "You can't shut it down. This is a law that passed both Houses of Congress, a law that bears my signature, a law that the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional, a law that voters chose not to repeal last November, a law that is already providing benefits to millions of Americans."
While Democrats are unwilling to include any provisions to scale back Obamacare in a government spending bill, they have conceded to the sequester-level spending levels Republicans have called for -- at least in the short-term.
House Democrats said Monday they were willing to pass a six-week spending bill that would keep operations funded at sequester levels, giving Congress more time to negotiate.
"Let's bring a clean [spending bill] to the floor, pass it with the few weeks that it gives us to come to the table to eliminate the sequester," Pelosi said.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., added, "This is not a negotiation -- we're taking their number, and we would hope that they could also take their number so we can keep the government open."
Republicans, however, have been steadfast in keeping up their opposition to Obamacare.
When Mr. Obama called Boehner on Monday, "The speaker told the president that Obamacare is costing jobs and that American families are being denied basic fairness when big businesses are getting exemptions that they are not," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.
Earlier Monday, Boehner told reporters, "What our members want is fairness for the American people." He argued that since President Obama has delayed the health care law's employer mandate, the individual mandate should be delayed for a year as well.
Reid, meanwhile, said Monday afternoon that House Republicans were "spinning their wheels" attempting to dismantle Obamacare.
After the Senate for the second time in recent days passed a clean spending bill, Reid urged Boehner to let the full House vote on it, predicting it would pass by a "large margin."
"I have a very simple message to John Boehner," he said. "Let the House vote. Stop trying to force a government shutdown. Let the House work its will -- all 435 members, not just the majority."