Washington, Oct 1: As the midnight hour came and went with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic-controlled Senate playing ping-pong with a spending bill, the US government began a historic shutdown, the first in nearly two decades.
With no agreement in sight over the budget for the new fiscal year beginning Tuesday, the White House ordered federal government agencies to begin shutting down, furloughing thousands of workers and curtailing some services.
Close to 800,000 federal workers would be affected.
The move came after the Senate twice Monday tossed out House of Representative amendments to the spending bill, defunding President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law nicknamed Obamacare, and sent it back to the House.
By midnight, the House of Representatives was still debating a move to appoint negotiators for a conference committee to try to work out differences between the two chambers.
But even before it left the House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rejected it as “game-playing”, and said, “We will not negotiate with a gun to our head.”
Earlier, chiding House Republicans for trying to undermine Obamacare, President Obama said: “You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job, for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway, where just because there’s a law there that you don’t like.”
Obama later called House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders in the House and Senate, even as moderate House Republicans were trying to engineer a rebellion against Boehner and their Tea Party colleagues, but no breakthrough was predicted.
A new CNN/ORC poll shows that Americans are not happy about the prospect of a shutdown, with 68 percent of Americans saying shutting down the government for even a few days is a bad idea, while 27 percent think it’s a good idea.
Most Americans also blamed congressional Republicans for a shutdown, 69 percent saying they agreed with the statement that the party’s elected officials were acting like “spoiled children”.
Democrats, however, weren’t far behind with 58 percent of respondents saying they too were acting like spoiled kids.
If the government does shut down, it would be the first time it has happened in more than 17 years. That previous shutdown, sparked by a budget battle between Democratic President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress, lasted for 21 days.
While the military will remain on duty, as will many essential public safety, health and welfare operations, many government offices will close. Late Monday, Obama signed a bill to guarantee pay for active duty military if the government shuts down.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at email@example.com)