WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first time in nearly two decades, the federal government staggered into a partial shutdown Monday at midnight.
Congressional Republicans demanded changes in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). President Barack Obama and Democrats refused.
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers will be furloughed and veterans’ centers, national parks, most of NASA and other government operations shuttered.
Obama 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 deadlock between the White House and a tea party-heavy Republican Party would prevail.
A few minutes before midnight, Budget Director Sylvia Burwell issued a directive to federal agencies to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown.” 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.
Republicans suffered grievous political damage and President Bill Clinton benefitted from earlier shutdowns nearly two decades ago, in 1995-96. Now, some Republicans said they fear a similar outcome.
Some Republicans also said 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.
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.
Defiant still, House Republicans decided to re-pass their earlier measure and simultaneously request negotiations with the Senate on a compromise. Some aides said the move was largely designed to make sure that the formal paperwork was on the Senate’s doorstep as the day ended.
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 PPACA, he said emphatically, “That funding is already in place. You can’t shut it down.”