The U.S. Congress is mired in a bitter political showdown that now appears likely to shut down major parts of the U.S. government Tuesday for the first time in 17 years. In the latest move, House Republicans passed another measure to derail U.S. President Barack Obama's health-care program. But the president and his Democratic Party allies in the Senate have made clear the measure is going nowhere.
In a high drama Saturday session, the Republican-controlled House passed a measure late in the evening that would fund the government until December 15th. But it also passed two amendments, one that would delay implementation of the heath care program for one year, which Democrats say is an absolute deal breaker.
House Republicans emerged from closed door meetings appearing energized, saying they are united in blocking the health care law because they believe it is the right thing to do.
Republican Congressman Pete Sessions urged support for the delay: "The House amendments would make important steps to ensure that Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act that President Obama and every Democrat voted for, does not have the opportunity to hurt American jobs and drag down our economy."
But Democratic Representative David Scott, an African American, accused some Republicans of doing everything they can to undermine President Obama, saying they can't separate Mr. Obama from Obamacare.
Scott told House Republicans "your hate for this president is coming before the love of this country, because if you loved this country, you would not be closing it down."
The Senate had passed a budget bill Friday that removed a House measure to defund the health care law, sending a clean funding bill back to the House for a vote. On Saturday, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid issued a statement calling the renewed House effort to block health care "pointless", and he made clear that the Democratically-controlled Senate would reject it.
The White House also reacted to the House measure, saying in a statement that "any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown."
Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schulz made an appeal for Republicans to fight the health care battle elsewhere: "It doesn't have to be this way. We do have the ability to stop the brinksmanship and come together, and separate two completely unrelated issues."
Democrats point out that the health care law has been in place for more than three years and that President Obama was re-elected last year, despite his rival's plan to overturn the health-care plan. Republicans argue that the health care law is a massive and costly federal intrusion into American's private lives.
As it stands now, the Senate is not set to be back in session until Monday afternoon, leaving only a few hours until the midnight deadline when government funding runs out. There is no clear path to a way to end the standoff.
The House also passed a measure to make sure the military gets paid in the event of a shutdown.
If there is no budget deal by midnight Monday, most government agencies will shut down some, or all, of their activities. For instance, national parks will be closed and many administrative services, such as paying retirees, may be affected. An estimated 800,000 federal employees will be furloughed.
For those duties that are considered essential, employees will be required to work, but will not be paid until a budget bill is passed. VOA will continue to broadcast. Overseas, many people may find visa applications are delayed.