The U.S. government started shutting down early Tuesday after a deeply divided Congress deadlocked over the budget and health care and let the federal fiscal year run out without any agreement over how to keep the money flowing.
It was the first such fiscal collapse of the government in nearly two decades.
The partial closure will delay some passport and visa applications, shutter national parks and museums and furlough hundreds of thousands of federal employees. Essential services will still be provided; the military remains on duty.
President Obama declared the government had officially run out of money when the fiscal year expired at 12:01 a.m. EDT Tuesday.
“Congress has not fulfilled its responsibility,” Obama said in a video message sent to the U.S. military around the globe. “It has failed to pass a budget and, as a result, much of our government must now shut down until Congress funds it again.”
The White House Office of Management and Budget sent an alert to all executive branch government offices telling them to start implementing shutdown plans: “Agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations.”
The shutdown came after the Senate and the House engaged in a high-stakes political showdown well into the night – sending bills back and forth across the Capitol – but never coming close to a deal. It was driven by House efforts to try to force a weakening of the new Affordable Care Act, which Senate Democrats rejected.
The Republican-controlled House voted 228-201 late Monday to fund the government for two months while delaying the new federal health care law’s mandate that Americans be required to have insurance and canceling health care subsidies for members of Congress. The Democratic-led Senate voted 54-46 to reject the proposal, just as it did earlier in the day on a similar measure that would have postponed the entire health care law, the president’s signature domestic achievement.
As the clock ticked toward the shutdown deadline, the House readied a new tactic, looking to set up direct negotiations with the Senate by appointing a team of budget negotiators called “conferees” to work with Senate counterparts to hash out a compromise in the coming days. But the Senate flatly rejected that proposal without a temporary budget extension.
“We like to resolve issues,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “But we will not go to conference with a gun to our head.”
About 800,000 of the more than 2 million federal employees will stay home after shutdown plans are implemented Tuesday. But more than a million active-duty military will remain on the job and be paid, according to legislation passed by both chambers and signed into law late Monday.
After the government reopens, lawmakers must decide whether employees – both those who worked and those who didn’t – should get paid following three years of frozen pay and increased workloads.
The health care law that is the focus of the dispute between Republicans and Democrats would continue to be implemented, because much of its funding comes from other sources, including new taxes and fees and cuts to other programs.
“Let me be clear about this. ... The Affordable Care Act is moving forward,” Obama said. “That funding is already in place. You can’t shut it down.”
Earlier Monday, Obama placed separate calls to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He told them anew that he would not negotiate on health care as part of the budget bill.
Boehner told the president in a 10-minute call that the health care law is “costing jobs and that American families are being denied basic fairness when big businesses are getting exemptions that they are not,” said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck.
But Reid criticized House members for their fixation on the health care law.
“Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “Tonight, we have more proof that House Republicans have lost their minds.
“Instead of allowing all 435 members of the House of Representatives to vote on the Senate’s bill to keep the government open for business, Speaker Boehner is once again pushing a government shutdown.”
During the contentious floor debate in the House on Monday, Democrats and Republicans stuck firm to their beliefs.
Boehner mimicked Obama during his phone call earlier.
“I talked to the president earlier tonight – ‘I’m not going to negotiate, I’m not going to negotiate, we’re not going to do this,’ ” Boehner said of his talk with the president. “Well, I would say to the president, ‘This is not about me, and it’s not about Republicans in the Congress. It’s about fairness for the American people.’ ”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., grew angry on the floor during the debate.
“What a shameful day this is in the House of Representatives,” Hoyer told his colleagues. “Tonight is about the continuing destructive obsession our Republicans friends have.”