Last-minute moves by Congress and White House late Monday night failed to break a bitter budget standoff over President Obama’s health care law, setting in motion the first government shutdown in nearly two decades.
Hours before a midnight deadline, the Republican House passed its third proposal in two weeks to fund the government for weeks, reports the Washington Post. As in previous plans, the new one sought to undermine the Affordable Care Act, this time by delaying enforcement of the “individual mandate,” a cornerstone of the law that requires all Americans to obtain health insurance. The new measure also sought to strip lawmakers and their aides of long-standing government health benefits.
The Democratic-led Senate quickly rejected that plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) dismissed the proposal as game-playing by the House.
“We will not go to conference with a gun to our heads,” he said, demanding that the House accept the Senate’s six-week stopgap spending bill, which has no policy prescriptions.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to abandon the assault on the health-care law and pass a simple bill to keep the government open. He called instead for a special committee to meet in the coming days to resolve differences between the two parties.
The impasse means 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed Tuesday. National parks, monuments and museums, as well as most federal offices, will close. Tens of thousands of air-traffic controllers, prison guards and Border Patrol agents will be required to serve without pay. And many congressional hearings — including one scheduled for Tuesday on last month’s Washington Navy Yard shootings — will be postponed.
The Office of Management and Budget issued orders that “agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations” because Congress had failed to act.
“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,” President Obama said in a video message to military and defense personnel around the world.
It was in 1995 and 1996 when a Republican-led Congress last shut down the government in a dispute over the budget with a Democratic president.
Democrats predict that if the shutdown stretches into the weekend, the government-funding dispute could lead to an even more serious battle over the $16.7 trillion federal debt limit. The Treasury Department will begin running short of cash to pay the nation’s bills as soon as Oct. 17 unless Congress approves additional borrowing authority.