A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Border Patrol officers, prison guards and air traffic controllers were told they may not be paid for their work during the shutdown. They will be paid, as will other workers who are deemed essential, but their pay may be delayed This version has been corrected.
The U.S. government began to shut down for the first time in 17 years early Tuesday, after a Congress bitterly divided over President Obama’s signature health-care initiative failed to reach agreement to fund federal agencies.
Hours before a midnight deadline, the Republican House passed its third proposal in two weeks to fund the government for a matter of weeks. Like the previous plans, the new one sought to undermine the Affordable Care Act, this time by delaying enforcement of the “individual mandate,” a cornerstone of the law that requires all Americans to obtain health insurance.
The new measure also sought to strip lawmakers and their aides of long-standing government health benefits.
The Democratic-led Senate quickly rejected that plan on a party-line vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) urged House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to abandon the assault on the health-care law and pass a simple bill to keep the government open. Otherwise, Reid warned, “the responsibility for this Republican government shutdown will rest squarely on his shoulders.”
Boehner refused to yield. He instead won approval, in a 1 a.m. largely party-line roll call, requesting a special House-Senate committee to meet in the coming days to resolve differences between the two parties, leaving in limbo the fate of millions of federal workers and the services they provide.
Shortly before midnight, the White House budget office issued a memo instructing agencies to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations.”
The impasse means 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed Tuesday. National parks, monuments and museums, as well as most federal offices, will close. Tens of thousands of air-traffic controllers, prison guards and Border Patrol agents will be required to serve, but their pay may be delayed. And many congressional hearings — including one scheduled for Tuesday on last month’s Washington Navy Yard shootings — will be postponed.
In a last-minute ray of hope for active-duty troops, Congress on Monday approved and sent to the White House an agreement to keep issuing military paychecks. But Obama warned that the broader economy, which is finally starting to recover from the shocks of the past six years, would take a substantial hit if congressional gridlock shutters “America’s largest employer.”
“Keeping the people’s government open is not a concession to me. Keeping vital services running and hundreds of thousands of Americans on the job is not something you ‘give’ to the other side. It’s our basic responsibility,” Obama said in a statement Monday evening at the White House.
Privately, senior Republicans predicted that the closure would last at least a week. A fraction of today’s House Republicans were on Capitol Hill in 1995 and 1996 when a Republican-led Congress last shut down the government in a dispute over the budget with a Democratic president. Younger lawmakers don’t remember the pain the shutdown caused constituents, senior Republicans said. And many of them now question the conventional wisdom that the closures weakened the GOP presidential candidate in 1996 and nearly cost the party control of the House.
Democrats predicted that if the shutdown stretches into the weekend, the government-funding dispute could be rolled into an even more serious battle over the $16.7 trillion federal debt limit. The Treasury Department will begin running short of cash to pay the nation’s bills as soon as Oct. 17 unless Congress approves additional borrowing authority. With so little time remaining to avoid what would be the nation’s first default, Democratic aides predicted that negotiations to reopen the government may be merged into the debt-limit talks.
On Monday evening, Obama telephoned Boehner to urge him to reconsider his stance on the health-care law. In a call that lasted nearly 10 minutes, according to Boehner’s office, the president reiterated his insistence that there would be no negotiations over the debt limit, and that Congress must pay the bills it has incurred.
Boehner responded by mocking Obama in a speech on the House floor.
“ ‘I’m not going to negotiate,’ ” he said, quoting Obama. “I would say to the president: This is not about me. It’s not about Republicans here in Congress. It’s about fairness.”