The mood was grim at the Capitol Monday as Democrats and Republicans couldn’t get it together for the good of the nation.
OUT OF SERVICE: Federal government enters first shutdown in 17 years; lawmakers remain divided over Obamacare
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.
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.’
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.
Many Americans will be inconvenienced by a 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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 last shutdown happened during President Clinton’s time in office.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Only 36% of Americans blame President Obama for the shutdown, a poll released Monday showed. 46% blame Republicans.
A string of cancellations and delays caused by the federal government shutdown is rippling across the United States, ruining dream vacations, upending carefully laid wedding plans and complicating the lives of millions of people.
From blood drives to daycare programs, musical performances to research projects, the disruptions caused by the political stalemate in Washington sparked growing frustrations and left people scrambling to make alternative plans.
Scores of weddings planned at national parks and monuments around the country were moved or postponed, and vacationers hustled to change their itineraries after finding iconic sites from the Statue of Liberty to the Lincoln Memorial closed.
“We’re really disappointed. We spent a lot of days waiting for tickets so we just want to go inside the statue,” said Gaelle Masse, a tourist from Paris who was startled to discover the Statue of Liberty was closed.
Thousands of tourists with prepaid tickets to visit Alcatraz Island, the famed prison site in San Francisco Bay, were unable to tour the former penitentiary.
In Boston, Italian tourist Federico Paliero and his girlfriend Claudia Costato peered through a closed metal gate to catch a glimpse of the USS Constitution, a wooden, three-masted US Navy ship from the 18th century docked in Boston Harbor that serves as one of the city’s major attractions.
Normally buzzing with tourists, the site was nearly abandoned on Wednesday, except for a handful of people looking lost and dismayed as they gawked at a sign explaining the closure.
“Italy is not the only state with money problems,” Paliero said, rubbing his thumb and forefingers together.
At Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, park staff said nearly 30 weddings scheduled for the next two weeks are threatened by the shutdown, which also sent hundreds of campers packing.
‘WORRIED ABOUT RAIN’
Two dozen weddings planned at monuments on the Washington mall in October also were threatened, a park service spokeswoman said.
“I wasn’t worried about the government shutting down. I was worried about rain,” said bride-to-be MaiLien Le, who was planning to walk down the aisle at the Jefferson Memorial on Saturday.
Having to possibly change venues just days before her wedding is “really upsetting,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show.
In northern Virginia, officials canceled blood drives that would have provided transfusions for up to 900 area patients.
The Library of Congress in Washington closed its doors, disrupting research projects and canceling a musical performance by Randy Newman.
About one-fifth of the classes at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, were scrapped, and science laboratories at the school were shut down as furloughs for civilian Defense Department employees took hold.
The Smithsonian, which shuttered all of its museums and the National Zoo, also had to close its early childhood center even though many parents had already paid between $300 and $400 in tuition for the week, according to local radio station WTOP.
“When you have to sit down and explain to a 5-year-old why he can’t go to school, it’s a difficult conversation,” Virginia resident Brian Katz, whose two children attend the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center housed in the Natural History Museum, told a local Fox television station.
Juleon Rabbani, 28, got a call from the National Park Service informing him that his scientific research in national parks would be shut down for now, compounding funding issues he was already facing.
“I wanted to graduate in the fall of 2014, but with my funding being held up and since my research sites are national parks, it will be well into 2015 before I am done,” he said. “The funding I need won’t come through, and who knows how long this shutdown will be.”
Some Washington businesses faced growing uncertainty as the shutdown continued, keeping government events away from hotels and federal workers out of their usual restaurants.
David Hill, general manager for two area hotels, said two dozen events at the hotels have been canceled in the coming weeks, including one large government group that triggered a $45,000 loss.
“What I’ve told my team is: for us, it’s business as usual … but everything in the future is in limbo,” said Hill, who manages the Phoenix Park Hotel just blocks from the US Capitol and the Four Points by Sheraton near the White House.
Grain traders in Chicago were preparing to cope without weekly US Department of Agriculture data on export sales typically released on Thursdays. The data, covering sales the previous week, can roil prices for crops like corn and wheat if demand is unexpectedly strong or weak.
“For now, we’ll go with our best guesses,” said Sterling Smith, futures specialist for Citigroup.
Traders and analysts were frustrated that USDA websites went dark as a result of the federal shutdown. They mine the sites for data on crop supplies and demand to project price trends.
Terry Reilly, analyst for Futures International, said he could not complete presentations on the grain markets for clients because USDA data was unavailable.
“It makes no sense to me that they would shut down their websites,” he said.