For the first time in nearly two decades, the federal government staggered into a partial shutdown Monday at midnight after congressional Republicans stubbornly demanded changes in the nation’s health care law, “Obamacare” as the price for essential federal funding and President Barack Obama and Democrats adamantly refused.
He 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.”
As Congress gridlocked, Obama said a “shutdown will have a very real economic impact on real people, right away,” with hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed and veterans’ centers, national parks, most of the space agency and other government operations shuttered.
As the two houses maneuvered for political advantage and the Obama administration’s budget office prepared for a partial shutdown, the first since the winter of 1995-1996.
The stock market dropped on fears that political deadlock between the White House and a tea party-heavy Republican Party would prevail, though analysts suggested significant damage to the national economy was unlikely unless a shutdown lasted more than a few days. 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. Any interruption in federal funding would send divided government into territory unexplored in nearly two decades.
Then, Republicans suffered grievous political damage and President Bill Clinton benefitted 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. 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, he said emphatically, “That funding is already in place. You can’t shut it down.” Many low-to-moderate-income borrowers and first-time homebuyers seeking government-backed mortgages could face delays, and Obama said veterans’ centers would be closed. Some critical services such as patrolling the borders and inspecting meat would continue.
Social Security benefits would be sent, and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals. U.S. troops were shielded from any damage to their wallets when Obama signed legislation assuring the military would be paid in the in the event of a shutdown. In Arkansas, nearly 1,000 workers furloughed over shutdown. “But we don’t know, if the shutdown is prolonged, if there will be school lunches for kids” after that, Beebe said.
The WIC funding would be evaluated on a week-by-week basis during the government shutdown. Federal facilities and national parks in Arkansas closed because of the shutdown, including Hot Springs National Park, the Fort Smith National Historic Site and the Buffalo National River State Park. Governor Mike Beebe and state Department of Finance and Administration Director Richard Weiss said Monday that as many as 18,000 state employees could be furloughed if the shutdown is prolonged.