Federal Gov’t Shutdown Occurs As Congress Squabbles Over Obamacare
WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS/AP/BCN) — The White House budget office directed federal agencies to shut down early Tuesday, after Congress missed a midnight funding deadline and triggered a government closure for the first time in 17 years.
As the clock struck midnight Monday night triggering a shutdown, U.S. 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.
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But 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.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in a memorandum to agency heads minutes before midnight that federal agencies should execute their plans for an orderly shutdown that would close most federal offices and furlough an estimated 800,000 federal workers.
She said the Obama administration urged Congress to move quickly so critical government services could be restored for millions of people who will be inconvenienced. In San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee joined that call.
“I am extremely concerned about the devastating impacts a shutdown will have on our City,” Lee said. “For San Francisco, federal funding is critical to providing vital City services, such as public safety, including homeland security, housing for our most vulnerable residents, health and human services, and implementing critical infrastructure and capital projects. Congress’ actions directly jeopardize programs and services funded by the $447 million in federal government funds.”
While critical functions like air traffic control and military operations will continue, federal officials said during past government shutdowns — the longest of which stretched for 21 days in 1995 into 1996 — there were delays in issuing Social Security, Medicare and veterans’ checks.
National parks in the Bay Area will also be closed to visitors during the shutdown, National Park Service spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet said. Those include all destinations in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, as well as Alcatraz Island and Muir Woods National Monument.
Back on Capitol Hill, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, criticized the shutdown, saying it would adversely affect “a variety of sectors in our economy, including agriculture, tourism, federal contractors, energy and biotech.”
He blamed misguided Republican attempts to delay or defund the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, for the shutdown.
“The ACA was passed by majorities in Congress, signed by the President, legally upheld by the Supreme Court, politically supported by the reelection of the President, and it has been the law of the land for over three years,” he said.
“Every law can be improved, but it should be done through a regular legislative process — not by taking the American economy hostage. I remain hopeful that we can avert a shutdown and end the era of manufactured crises,” he said.
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 interruption in federal funding sends 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 also 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.
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 conceded the move was largely designed to make sure that the formal paperwork was on the Senate’s doorstep as the day ended.
Whatever its intent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., rejected it. “That closes government. They want to close government,” he said of House Republicans.
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.
Yet for the first time since the showdown began more than a week ago, there was also public dissent from the Republican strategy that has been carried out at the insistence of lawmakers working in tandem with GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., said he was willing to vote for stand-alone legislation that would keep the government running and contained no health care-related provisions. “I would be supportive of it, and I believe the votes are there in the House to pass it at that point,” the fifth-term congressman said.
Other Republicans sought to blame Democrats for any shutdown, but Dent conceded that Republicans would bear the blame, whether or not they deserved it.
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