As the clock struck midnight Monday, House Republicans were demanding that the Senate negotiate their demand for a one-year delay in making millions of people buy health insurance under President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law. Minutes before midnight, the White House ordered a shutdown.
The Democratic Senate on Monday twice rejected GOP demands to delay key portions of what has become to known as Obamacare as a condition for keeping the government open.
An estimated 800,000 federal workers faced furloughs though many were told work a half day Tuesday. Critical functions like air traffic control and military operations will continue. Social Security benefits will be paid. National parks and most federal offices will close.
The federal government lurched toward a partial shutdown at midnight on Monday after Republicans stubbornly demanded changes in the nation’s health care law as the price for essential federal funding and President Barack Obama and Democrats adamantly refused.
With Congress hopelessly gridlocked, Obama said hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be furloughed and government operations ranging from veterans’ centers to national parks and most of the nation’s space agency would be shuttered.
He laid the blame at the feet of House Republicans, whom he accused of seeking to tie government funding to ideological demands, “all to save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right wing of their party.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, responded a short while later on the House floor. “The American people don’t want a shutdown and neither do I,” he said. Yet, he added, the new health care law “is having a devastating impact. ... Something has to be done.”
The stock market dropped on fears that political gridlock between the White House and a tea party-heavy Republican Party would prevail, though analysts suggested significant damage to the national economy was unlikely unless a shutdown lasted more than a few days.
While an estimated 800,000 federal workers faced furloughs, some critical parts of the government — from the military to air traffic controllers — would remain open.
Any interruption in federal funding would send divided government into territory unexplored in nearly two decades. Then, Republicans suffered grievous political damage and President Bill Clinton benefited from twin shutdowns. Now, some Republicans said they feared a similar outcome.
If nothing else, some Republicans conceded it was impossible to use funding legislation to squeeze concessions from the White House on health care. “We can’t win,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
“We’re on the brink,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Md., said shortly after midday as the two houses maneuvered for political advantage and the Obama administration’s budget office prepared for a partial shutdown.
On a long day and night in the Capitol, the Senate torpedoed one GOP attempt to tie government financing to changes in “Obamacare.” House Republicans countered with a second despite unmistakable signs their unity was fraying — and Senate Democrats promptly rejected it, as well.
That left the next move up to Boehner and his House Republican rank and file, with just two hours remaining before the shutdown deadline of midnight.
They decided to re-pass their earlier measure and simultaneously request negotiations with the Senate on a compromise, a move that some GOP aides said was largely designed to make sure that the formal paperwork was on the Senate’s doorstep at the moment of a shutdown.
Whatever its intent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., rejected it. “That closes government. They want to close government,” he said.
As lawmakers squabbled, Obama spoke bluntly about House Republicans. “You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job, for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway, or just because there’s a law there that you don’t like,” he said. Speaking of the health care law that undergoes a major expansion on Tuesday, he said emphatically, “That funding is already in place. You can’t shut it down.”
Some Republicans balked, moderates and conservatives alike.
Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia said it felt as if Republicans were retreating, given their diminishing demands, and Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia said there was not unanimity when the rank and file met to discuss a next move.