Deadline missed; shutdown begins

Senate rejects latest House Republican effort to negotiate

Congress' failure to pass a budget has, in effect, defunded hundreds of thousands of federal jobs and shut the national parks, including the Lincoln Memorial, above.
Jason Reed/Reuters

The U.S. government began shuttering nonessential services Tuesday after a Congress bitterly divided over health care reforms pushed Washington into the first federal shutdown in 17 years.

Acrimonious finger-pointing began even before Monday's midnight deadline for an extension of federal spending, when the House of Representatives failed to offer an emergency funding bill that did not aim to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Senate voted later Tuesday morning to reject the latest House Republican effort to negotiate on the budget amid the government shutdown.

Voting along party lines, 54-46, the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected a spending plan that included a provision to weaken the ACA and a request to set up a negotiating committee to resolve differences.

As the back and forth in Congress continues, federal workers will learn Tuesday if they are among the hundreds of thousands of employees to be furloughed or asked to work without pay as a result of the shutdown.

The formal announcement that government departments had been asked to prepare for closures came shortly before Monday's midnight deadline.

"Unfortunately, we do not have a clear indication that Congress will act in time for the President to sign a continuing resolution before the end of the day tomorrow, October 1, 2013," said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget. "Therefore, agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations."

Speaking shortly after the deadline passed, Senate leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that the shutdown was "an unnecessary blow to America." He added that it was caused by House Republicans' "fixation on embarrassing our president."

Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner called on the Senate to engage in further negotiations Tuesday.

"The Senate has continued to reject our offers, but under the Constitution, there's a way to resolve this problem — and that is to go to conference and talk through your differences," he said during a brief press conference after the shutdown began. "I would hope that the Senate would accept our offer to go to conference and discuss this so that we can resolve this for the American people."

President Barack Obama vented his anger over the development via his Twitter account, writing, "They actually did it. A group of Republicans in the House just forced a government shutdown over Obamacare instead of passing a real budget."

Earlier Monday, he lashed out against the House for tying conditions for the ACA to the passage of a stopgap federal budget resolution, calling the move the "height of irresponsibility."

"One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn't get to shut down the entire government," he told reporters at the White House. "You don't get to extract a ransom for doing your job."

But despite his plea, House Republicans refused to bend on tying a spending bill to the ACA.

At 11:15 p.m. Monday, Republican lawmakers requested a conference with the Senate to negotiate a new budget bill. House Minority Whip Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said the action was so late that it effectively nixed any chance to meet the government's midnight deadline.

One hour earlier, the Senate rejected, for the second time, a short-term budget resolution by the House that would delay the ACA.

The House refused to send the Senate a budget extension that did not postpone implementing the health-care law by one year and eliminate key provisions, including a medical-device tax intended to help fund the law by raising an estimated $30 billion over 10 years.

Click for the latest news and analysis on the government shutdown

The Republican-led House passed a continuing resolution early Sunday to keep the government funded through Dec. 15, but the Senate had vowed to rebuff any bill with provisions to curb the ACA.

Congress' failure to pass a budget has, in effect, defunded hundreds of thousands of federal jobs.

"These dedicated public servants who stay on the job will do so without pay," Obama said Monday. "These Americans are our neighbors. Their kids go to our schools. They are the customers of every business in this country."

Meanwhile, a poll released Tuesday morning shows that Americans overwhelmingly oppose — 72 percent to 22 percent — shutting down the federal government to block enforcement of the ACA. That Quinnipiac University survey also found that voters are divided on Obamacare, with 45 percent in favor and 47 percent against the law.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, on Tuesday some federal employees will be suspended without pay, while staff whose work is deemed essential will be kept on the job.

Employees will receive an official email saying whether they are essential or they are slated to be furloughed. It will include appeal rights and a form to apply for unemployment insurance.

Some agencies — like NASA, where more than 9 out of 10 workers will be forced to stay home — will be drastically impacted. At the Environmental Protection Agency, employees were told they cannot work on "any projects, tasks, activities or respond to emails." The Department of Housing and Urban Development said it would close its offices at 1:30 p.m. Other agencies, including the Labor Department, expect most employees to be gone by midday but haven't set a specific time for closing.

Federal workers will not see their pay affected right away. If a shutdown continues, all employees can expect to be paid, as scheduled, on Oct. 15 for hours worked from Sept. 22 through Sept. 30.

Shortly before Monday night's deadline, the president signed the Pay Our Military Act, which assures that uniformed military personnel will continue to be paid despite the shutdown.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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