Shutdown begins: House officials say no more funding votes tonight
Hours before a midnight deadline, the Republican House passed its third proposal in two weeks to fund the government for a matter of weeks. Like the 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 on a party-line vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) urged House Speaker John A. Boehner (R., Ohio) to abandon the assault on the health-care law and pass a simple bill to keep the government open. Otherwise, Reid warned, "the responsibility for this Republican government shutdown will rest squarely on his shoulders."
Shortly before midnight, the White House budget office issued a memo instructing agencies to "execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations."
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.
In a last-minute reprieve for active-duty troops, Congress approved and Obama signed an agreement to keep issuing military paychecks. Obama warned that the broader economy, which is finally starting to recover from the shocks of the last six years, would take a substantial hit if congressional gridlock shutters "America's largest employer."
"Keeping the people's government open is not a concession to me. Keeping vital services running and hundreds of thousands of Americans on the job is not something you 'give' to the other side. It's our basic responsibility," Obama said in a statement Monday evening at the White House.
Privately, senior Republicans predicted that the closure would last at least a week. A fraction of today's House Republicans were on Capitol Hill in 1995 and 1996 when a Republican-led Congress last shut down the government in a dispute over the budget with a Democratic president. Younger lawmakers don't remember the pain the shutdown caused constituents, senior Republicans said. And many of them now question the conventional wisdom that the closures weakened the GOP presidential candidate in 1996 and nearly cost the party control of the House.
Democrats predicted that if the shutdown stretches into the weekend, the government-funding dispute could be rolled into 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. With so little time remaining to avoid what would be the nation's first default, Democratic aides predicted that negotiations to reopen the government may be merged into the debt-limit talks.
On Monday evening, Obama telephoned Boehner to urge him to reconsider his stance on the health-care law.
In a call that lasted nearly 10 minutes, according to Boehner's office, the president reiterated his insistence that there would be no negotiations over the debt limit.
Boehner responded by mocking Obama in a speech on the House floor.
" 'I'm not going to negotiate,' " he said, quoting Obama. "I would say to the president: This is not about me. It's not about Republicans here in Congress. It's about fairness."
The speech drew applause for the embattled speaker, who argued passionately that Republicans were merely seeking "fairness" for working people. Obama has delayed a mandate for employers to insure workers and delayed other requirements for big unions, Boehner said. "Yet they stick our constituents with a bill they don't like and a bill they can't afford," he said.
Despite the show of unity, Republicans on both sides of the Capitol remain deeply divided about the attack on the health-care law. In the House, a group of more moderate Republicans was seething about the decision to bow to the forces that oppose the Affordable Care Act, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), and his allies on the right, including such outside groups as Heritage Action for America.
On Monday, some publicly urged Boehner to drop the issue and seek the help of House Democrats to pass the simple government-funding bill that the Senate approved last week.
Frustrations also were simmering among Senate Republicans, who complained that House leaders were pressing the attack in direct opposition to public opinion.
Polls show that voters overwhelmingly disapprove of using the threat of a shutdown to defund the health-care law and that blame for a shutdown will fall squarely on Republicans.
What Separates GOP, Democrats
The rival approaches to preventing a partial government shutdown, as of late Monday night:
GOP House bill
Funds federal agencies through Dec. 15 at current spending levels. The rate equates to annual agency spending of $986 billion, and includes the impact of this year's sequester, or automatic spending cuts.
Delays for a year the requirement that individuals and businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees buy insurance under President Obama's 2010 health-care law.
Dropped from the bill were earlier provisions repealing a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices such as pacemakers and scanning machines, and letting some employers with religious or moral objections decline to provide contraception coverage.
Democratic Senate bill
Funds federal agencies through Nov. 15 at the same level as the House bill.
Makes no changes in the 2010 health-care law.