Lights out in Washington as federal government shuts down

Congressional impasse over health care law leads to 800,000 furloughs, impromptu vacations.

US Capitol building in Washington DC 390 (photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
US Capitol building in Washington DC 390
(photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
WASHINGTON – Once greeted daily by proud Americans and curious foreigners, Lincoln sat alone in his monument on the National Mall on Tuesday after the US Congress was unable to pass a budget in time to keep the federal government open and running.
The impasse immediately shut down the country’s National Parks Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs and NASA, and sent home hundreds of thousands of government workers without the guarantee of backpay.
A divided Republican caucus in the House of Representatives has stalled any vote on a budget that would keep the government open so long as that means a continuation of funding for the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” the 2009 healthcare reform law and US President Barack Obama’s signature legislation.
House Majority Leader John Boehner told his caucus that he refuses to be caught “holding the hot potato” on the wildly unpopular shutdown, as early polling indicates that Americans blame Republicans in Congress for the crisis, and a CNN poll found America’s approval of its lawmakers at a record-low 10 percent. To shift the blame, Boehner has been lobbing watered-down bills mitigating the shutdown’s damage – funding the parts of the government most visibly affected, and eliminating waivers on members of Congress who are still getting paid through the crisis – over to the Democrat- controlled Senate.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that Tuesday is a “good day for anarchists,” sniping at Tea Party Republicans for intentionally sabotaging the US government through a “hostage” crisis.
Obama said the government closure risked an “economic shutdown.” The federal government is America’s largest single employer.
“They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable healthcare to millions of Americans,” Obama said.
“I urge House Republicans to reopen the government, restart the services Americans depend on, and allow the public servants who have been sent home to return to work,” Obama said. “This is only going to happen when Republicans realize they don’t get to hold the entire economy hostage over ideological demands.”
Many Republicans in Congress fighting to delay or defund Obamacare were elected to do just that, winning off campaign messages to do whatever was necessary to disrupt the law, which started in earnest on Tuesday with citizen registrations.
Opposition to the law centralizes around a political fear over rapid government expansion and ideological opposition to government encroachment into personal freedoms, such as the freedom not to have health insurance.
Democrats say that 30 million people previously without coverage will now be able to acquire vital care, and that Republicans are protecting insurance companies that take advantage of the sick.
Defunding Obamacare will take more than shutting down the government: The act declares healthcare a vital service, like Medicaid and social security, putting conservative Republicans in the awkward position of having defunded much of the government, save for entitlements.
Capitol Hill staffers found themselves out of work on an unusually warm October Tuesday, free to roam the streets, but not the parks.
The last government shutdown occurred 17 years ago during the Clinton presidency.
It lasted 21 days and led to the resignation of the House speaker at the time, Newt Gingrich.