WASHINGTON — The first shutdown of the U.S. government in 17 years began early Tuesday as Congress bickered and bungled an effort to fund federal agencies due to a bitter ideological standoff over Obamacare.
The embarrassing disruption that an angry President Obama said was “entirely preventable” and would “throw a wrench into the gears” of the country’s recovering economy was triggered as a midnight deadline passed without agreement between the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-run Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) disclosed at midnight that the White House budget office had directed agencies to start closing up shop. He then called a recess until 9:30 a.m., meaning that there would be no House-Senate deal in the wee hours Tuesday.
President Obama criticized Republicans’ efforts to delay key aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Susan Walsh/AP
The shutdown would keep 800,000 federal workers at home on Tuesday and inconvenience millions of people who rely on federal services or are drawn to the nation’s parks and other attractions. Critical workers, from the Border Patrol to air-traffic controllers, would remain on the job, unpaid.
Legislation was passed, however, to fund the armed services during the shutdown.
House Speaker John Boehner said Obamacare ‘is having a devastating impact.’ Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Despite the drama, members of Congress faced no threat to their own pay, because the 27th Amendment to the Constitution bars their salaries from being subjected to the annual appropriations process. Obama, too, will still be paid.
Conservative firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who made himself the face of the GOP effort to block Obamacare through the funding bill, pledged Monday to donate his salary to charity during the shutdown.
Repeatedly Monday, amid all the political posturing and rhetoric, the House amended a Senate resolution to fund the government to add a one-year delay in Obamacare, and other alterations. Repeatedly the Senate rejected those conservative-backed changes.
Many Americans will be inconvenienced by a shutdown. Photos by AP, Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News
The House was expected to pass the latest health-care law changes in an early morning vote. The Senate was set to reject those additions when they return Tuesday.
As the nearly ridiculous legislative tit-for-tat played out, Obama went to the White House briefing room to insist that Republicans give up their demand to tie new money for the government to scuttling or delaying his health care law.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) arrives at the Capitol Monday. The Senate voted Monday to defeat a House bill that links keeping the government funded to delaying ‘Obamacare’ for one year. Win McNamee/Getty Images
“One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election,” Obama said.
“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.”
The front page of the NY Daily News on October 1, 2013.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) responded a few hours 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.”
Even more troubling than the shutdown was that the partisan stalemate that caused it sets the stage for an even more high-stakes clash, as Congress must soon deal with raising the debt limit by Oct. 17 — a matter in which both sides concede that failure would be perilous for the U.S. economy and economies worldwide. Republicans also want to attach conditions to that vote. Democrats said giving ground now would encourage Republicans to take a harder line in that fight.
“You know with a bully you can’t let them slap you around because they slap you around today, they slap you five or six times tomorrow,” Reid said.
Congress remained gridlocked Monday over legislation to continue funding the federal government. The federal government shut down after both chambers failed to pass a resolution before midnight. Win McNamee/Getty Images
Monday’s failure on Capitol Hill caused the stock market to drop on fears that gridlock would continue and Congress would shoot the recovering economy in the foot. The Dow Jones slipped 128 points, or 0.8%.
The fight also sent Congress’ already abysmal approval plunging to a new low. A CNN poll released late Monday found that just 10% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, while a record 87% disapprove. And Americans are blaming the Tea Party and its no-holds-barred-against-Obama stance for the crisis — the party had its lowest favorable rating in its five-year history, at 31%.
The last shutdown happened during President Clinton’s time in office. Photo by AP
At times Monday, Washington seemed like a real-life “House of Cards,” the Netflix drama in which D.C. power players are motivated by dark self-interest rather than the national interest.
Congress, and the government, needed to act because there was no authorization for the government to spend any money as of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, the start of the new budget year.
Monday’s maneuvering began in the Democrat-controlled Senate, which voted, 54 to 46, to kill a House-passed bill that would keep the government funded but delay Obamacare for a year.
Boehner arrives with his security detail at the Capitol on Monday, remained adamant that “Obamacare” be delayed. “This law is not ready for prime time,” he said. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS
The Senate then sent the House a so-called “clean” bill — one that would simply keep government running through Nov. 15. With the ball back in their court, House Republicans sought different concessions in exchange for keeping the government funded. They called for a one-year delay in the Obamacare requirement for individuals to buy coverage.
They also sought to force members of Congress and their aides, as well as Obama, Vice President Biden and Obama’s political appointees, to bear the full cost of their own coverage by barring the government from making the customary employer contribution.
Only 36% of Americans blame President Obama for the shutdown, a poll released Monday showed. 46% blame Republicans. Charles Dharapak/AP
“This is a matter of funding the government and providing fairness to the American people,” said Boehner. “Why wouldn’t members of Congress vote for it?”
The bill passed, 228 to 201.
Unimpressed, Senate Democrats greeted it as dead on arrival in their chamber.
For the first time since the showdown began, there were fissures in the Republican strategy that has been carried out at the insistence of conservatives aligned with the Tea Party. Twelve lawmakers sided with Democrats in a late Monday vote on adding an Obamacare delay to a spending bill, a minor revolt by moderate-leaning Republicans.
Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.), who organized a push by a few GOP moderates to oppose their party, said it was time for GOP to accept a “clean” funding bill. “All we’re doing is leading ourselves into a government shutdown for no reason,” said King.