Government Lurches Towards Possible Shutdown

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

Associated Press Release
By DAVID ESPO
AP Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The federal government lurched toward a partial shutdown at midnight on Monday after Republicans stubbornly demanded changes in the nation's health care law as the price for essential federal funding and President Barack Obama and Democrats adamantly refused.

With Congress hopelessly gridlocked, Obama said hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be furloughed and government operations ranging from veterans' centers to national parks and most of the nation's space agency would be shuttered.

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."

The stock market dropped on fears that political gridlock 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.

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 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.

"We're on the brink," Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Md., said shortly after midday as the two houses maneuvered for political advantage and the Obama administration's budget office prepared for a partial shutdown.

On a long day and night in the Capitol, the Senate torpedoed one GOP attempt to tie government financing to changes in "Obamacare." House Republicans countered with a second despite unmistakable signs their unity was fraying -- and Senate Democrats promptly rejected it, as well.

That left the next move up to Boehner and his House Republican rank and file, with just two hours remaining before the shutdown deadline of midnight EDT.

They decided to re-pass their earlier measure and simultaneously request negotiations with the Senate on a compromise, a move that some GOP aides said was largely designed to make sure that the formal paperwork was on the Senate's doorstep at the moment of a shutdown.

Whatever its intent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., rejected it. "That closes government. They want to close government," he said.

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 on Tuesday, he said emphatically, "That funding is already in place. You can't shut it down."

Some Republicans balked, moderates and conservatives alike.

Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia said it felt as if Republicans were retreating, given their diminishing demands, and Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia said there was not unanimity when the rank and file met to discuss a next move.

Yet for the first time since the showdown began more than a week ago, there was also public dissent from the Republican strategy that has been carried out at the insistence of lawmakers working in tandem with GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., said he was willing to vote for stand-alone legislation that would keep the government running and contained no health care-related provisions. "I would be supportive of it, and I believe the votes are there in the House to pass it at that point," the fifth-term congressman said.

Other Republicans sought to blame Democrats for any shutdown, but Dent conceded that Republicans would bear the blame, whether or not they deserved it.

Hours before the possible shutdown, the Senate voted 54-46 to reject the House-passed measure that would have kept the government open but would have delayed implementation of the health care law for a year and permanently repealed a medical device tax that helps finance it.

In response, House Republicans sought different concessions in exchange for allowing the government to remain open. They called for a one-year delay in a requirement in the health care law for individuals to purchase coverage. The same measure also would require members of Congress and their aides as well as the president, vice president and the administration's political appointees to bear the full cost of their own coverage by barring the government from making the customary employer contribution.

"This is a matter of funding the government and providing fairness to the American people," said Boehner. "Why wouldn't members of Congress vote for it?"

The vote was 228-201, with a dozen Republicans opposed and nine Democrats in favor.

Unimpressed, Senate Democrats swatted it on a 54-46 party line vote about an hour later.

Obama followed up his public remarks with phone calls to Boehner and the three other top leaders of Congress, telling Republicans he would continue to oppose attempts to delay or cut federal financing of the health care law.

The impact of a shutdown would be felt unevenly.

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.

About 800,000 federal workers, many already reeling from the effect of automatic budget cuts, would be ordered to report to work Tuesday for about four hours -- but only to carry out shutdown-related chores such as changing office voicemail messages and completing time cards.

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.

That had no impact on those who labor at other agencies.

"I know some other employees, if you don't have money saved, it's going to be difficult," said Thelma Manley, who has spent seven years as a staff assistant with the Internal Revenue Service during a 30-year career in government.

As for herself, she said, "I'm a Christian, I trust in God wholeheartedly and my needs will be met." She added, "I do have savings, so I can go to the reserve, so to speak."

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Laurie Kellman, Pauline Jelinek; Henry Jackson, Donna Cassata and Stacy A. Anderson in Washington and Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pa., contributed to this report.


Associated Press Release
By ANDREW TAYLOR

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Compromise elusive, Republicans and Democrats blamed each other Monday as they took the federal government to the brink of a shutdown in an intractable budget dispute over President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

House Republicans excoriated Senate Democrats for taking the weekend off and resisting a House measure that would avert a shutdown, though with conditions: delaying further implementation of the health care law for a year and eliminating a tax on medical devices.

"The Senate decided not to work yesterday," Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said shortly after the House began its session -- and just hours before a threatened shutdown at midnight. "Well my goodness, if there's such an emergency, where are they?"

For the Senate, however, the GOP strings on the spending bill were nonstarters. The Senate returns shortly after 2 p.m. EDT and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and his Democrats have made it clear that they want a straightforward bill to keep the government open. Reid plans votes to reject House GOP-crafted amendments to delay the 3-year-old health care law and eliminate a tax on medical devices, and he has the numbers to prevail.

"They cannot seem to stop themselves," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said of Republicans at a Capitol Hill news conference. "So we will stop them."

As the rhetoric heated up, so did the pressure for compromise. If that doesn't occur by midnight, Americans will soon see the impact: National parks would close. Many low-to-moderate incomes borrowers and first-time homebuyers seeking government-backed mortgages could face delays. Passport applications would be delayed.

One program that will begin on Tuesday -- even with a shutdown -- is enrollment in new health care exchanges for millions of Americans -- a crucial part of Obama's health care law. That's because most of the program is paid from monies not subject to congressional appropriations.

But about 800,000 federal workers, many already reeling from the effect of the automatic budget cuts, would be forced off the job without pay. Some critical services such as patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic 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.

The prospect of a government shutdown sent stocks sliding on Wall Street, which also is looking nervously at what a dysfunctional Washington would do mid-month on raising the nation's borrowing authority. Failure of the U.S. to act on the debt limit could unnerve world markets.

Tea party and conservative Republicans have forced Boehner and the House GOP leadership to couple the spending bill with efforts to dismantle the health care law. Democrats reject putting conditions on the temporary spending bill, saying that's akin to political ransom.

"I could sit here and say, `Well, I'm not going to vote for a budget unless you agree to pass gun safety legislation.' That's not the way this place is supposed to operate," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.

Two moderate Republicans from Democratic-leaning states -- Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Rep. Charles Dent of Pennsylvania -- signaled that they could back a straightforward spending bill.

"I would be supportive of it and I believe the votes are there in the House to pass it at that point," Dent said.

"We're not going to shut down the government," Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, a member of the House GOP leadership told reporters as he left a closed-door meeting of GOP leaders.

Since the last government shutdown 17 years ago, temporary funding bills known as continuing resolutions have been noncontroversial, with neither party willing to chance a shutdown to achieve legislative goals it couldn't otherwise win.

"You're going to shut down the government if you can't prevent millions of Americans from getting affordable care," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

A leader of the tea party Republicans, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, insisted the blame rests with Senate Democrats.

"The House has twice now voted to keep the government open. And if we have a shutdown, it will only be because when the Senate comes back, (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid says, `I refuse even to talk,"' said Cruz, who led a 21-hour broadside against allowing the temporary funding bill to advance if stripped clean of a tea party-backed provision to derail Obamacare. The effort failed.

The battle started with a House vote to pass the short-term funding bill with a provision that would have eliminated the federal dollars needed to put Obama's health care overhaul into place. The Senate voted along party lines to strip that out and sent the measure back to the House.

The latest House bill, passed early Sunday by a near party-line vote of 231-192, sent back to the Senate two major changes: a one-year delay of key provisions of the health insurance law and repeal of a new tax on medical devices that partially funds it. The steps still go too far for the White House and its Democratic allies.

A House GOP leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, said Sunday that the House "will have a few other options" for the Senate to consider, though he did not specify them. "The House will get back together in enough time, send another provision not to shut the government down, but to fund it," he said.

He suggested that House Republicans would try blocking a mandate that individuals buy health insurance or face a tax penalty, saying there might be some Democratic support in the Senate for that.

On the other hand, Democrats said the GOP's bravado may fade as the deadline to avert a shutdown nears.

Asked whether he could vote for a "clean" temporary funding bill, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said he couldn't. But he added, "I think there's enough people in the Republican Party who are willing to do that. And I think that's what you're going to see."

House Republicans argued that they had already made compromises; for instance, their latest measure would leave intact most parts of the health care law that have taken effect, including requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and to let families' plans cover children up to age 26. They also would allow insurers to deny contraception coverage based on religious or moral objections.

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Donna Cassata in Washington and Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pa., contributed to their report.


Associated Press Release
By ANDREW TAYLOR

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A conservative challenge to the president's health care law has the federal government teetering on the brink of a partial shutdown.

The Senate has the next move on must-do legislation required to keep the government open past midnight on Monday, and the Democratic-led chamber is expected to reject the latest effort from House Republicans to use a normally routine measure to attack President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

Congress was closed for the day on Sunday after a post-midnight vote in the GOP-run House to delay by a year key parts of the new health care law and repeal a tax on medical devices as the price for avoiding a shutdown. The Senate is slated to convene Monday afternoon just 10 hours before the shutdown deadline, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has already promised that majority Democrats will kill the House's latest volley.

A House GOP leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, said the House would again rebuff the Senate's efforts to advance the short-term funding bill as a simple, "clean" measure shorn of anti-heath care reform provisions.

Since the last government shutdown 17 years ago, temporary funding bills known as continuing resolutions have been noncontroversial, with neither party willing to chance a shutdown to achieve legislative goals it couldn't otherwise win. But with health insurance exchanges set to open Tuesday, tea party Republicans are willing to take the risk in their drive to kill the law, so-called "Obamacare."

"You're going to shut down the government if you can't prevent millions of Americans from getting affordable care," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

A leader of the tea party Republicans, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, insisted the blame rests with Senate Democrats.

"The House has twice now voted to keep the government open. And if we have a shutdown, it will only be because when the Senate comes back, Harry Reid says, `I refuse even to talk,"' said Cruz, who led a 21-hour broadside against allowing the temporary funding bill to advance if stripped clean of a tea party-backed provision to derail Obamacare. The effort failed.

The battle started with a House vote to pass the short-term funding bill with a provision that would have eliminated the federal dollars needed to put Obama's health care overhaul into place. The Senate voted along party lines to strip that out and set the measure back to the House.

The latest House bill, passed early Sunday by a near party-line vote of 231-192, sent back to the Senate two major changes: a one-year delay of key provisions of the health insurance law and repeal of a new tax on medical devices that partially funds it. The steps still go too far for the White House and its Democratic allies.

Senate rules often make it difficult to move quickly, but the chamber can act on the House's latest proposals by simply calling them up and killing them.

Eyes were turning to the House for its next move. A senior leader vowed the House would not simply give in to Democrats' demands to pass the Senate's "clean" funding bill.

"The House will get back together in enough time, send another provision not to shut the government down, but to fund it, and it will have a few other options in there for the Senate to look at again," said McCarthy, the No. 3 House Republican leader.

He suggested that House Republicans would try blocking a mandate that individuals buy health insurance or face a tax penalty, saying there might be some Democratic support in the Senate for that.

On the other hand, Democrats said the GOP's bravado may fade as the deadline to avert a shutdown nears.

Asked whether he could vote for a "clean" temporary funding bill, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said he couldn't. But Labrador added, "I think there's enough people in the Republican Party who are willing to do that. And I think that's what you're going to see."

A leading Senate GOP moderate called on her fellow Republicans to back down.

"I disagree with the strategy of linking Obamacare with the continuing functioning of government -- a strategy that cannot possibly work," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

McCarthy wouldn't say what changes Republicans might make. He appeared to suggest that a very short-term measure might pass at the last minute, but GOP aides said that was unlikely.

Republicans argued that Reid should have convened the Senate on Sunday.

Yet even some Republicans said privately they feared that Reid held the advantage in a fast-approaching end game.

Republicans argued that they had already made compromises; for instance, their latest measure would leave intact most parts of the health care law that have taken effect, including requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and to let families' plans cover children up to age 26. They also would allow insurers to deny contraception coverage based on religious or moral objections.

Tea party lawmakers in the House -- egged on by Cruz -- forced GOP leaders to abandon an earlier plan to deliver a "clean" stopgap spending bill to the Senate and move the fight to another must-do measure looming in mid-October: a bill to increase the government's borrowing cap to avert a market-rattling, first-ever default on U.S. obligations.

In the event lawmakers blow the Monday deadline, about 800,000 workers would be forced off the job without pay. Some critical services such as patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic 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.

McCarthy appeared on "Fox News Sunday," while Cruz and Labrador were on NBC's "Meet the Press." Van Hollen appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation."


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