CAPITOL HILL— The U.S. government has entered a partial shutdown after a politically-deadlocked Congress could not pass a bill to extend funding. Lawmakers worked late into the night but could not overcome a partisan split over President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, a major component of which is being implemented Tuesday.
Three times, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted to undermine the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, as a condition of funding federal operations. Three times, the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected the measures. With Congress unable to agree on an extension of federal spending authority, non-essential U.S. government operations halted early Tuesday.
Democratic Senator Richard Durbin was incredulous over the turn of events.
“Shutting down the government of the United States of America? When you hear about this happening in foreign countries, you think, ‘It is a shame they are not as stable and strong as our great democracy’. And yet here we are,” said Durbin.
The Senate passed its own spending bill free of partisan stipulations about Obamacare or any other matter, but Republican leaders in the House declined to bring that measure to the floor for a vote. Representative Michele Bachmann belongs to a core group of House Republicans that refuses to abandon the fight against Obamacare.
“I have gotten literally hundreds and hundreds of phone calls to my office today, and people have said, ‘Keep fighting. Stand strong’. They want us to stand and fight. They do not want us to give up,” said Bachman.
Other Republicans, such as Senator Lisa Murkowski, think their party’s campaign against Obamacare has gone too far.
“I am not a supporter of the Affordable Care Act. But do I believe that we should shut down the federal government at this point because we have not been able to shut down the Affordable Care Act? I think we have a responsibility here to govern,” said Murkowski.
Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, are united behind President Obama in funding the government while keeping Obamacare intact. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats will hold firm.
“We will not re-litigate the health care debate or negotiate at the point of a gun," said Reid.
In the final hour before the shutdown began, House Republicans suggested a bicameral negotiation to resolve differences between the two chambers, but Senator Reid immediately rejected the idea. Similarly, House Speaker John Boehner ruled out a vote on the Senate funding-only bill.
And so, with no resolution passed, the U.S. government’s authority to spend money expired as the clock struck midnight in Washington. Hours earlier, at the White House, President Obama voiced frustration and disappointment over Congress’ inability to act.
Later on Tuesday, the president will tout provisions of Obamacare that are being activated despite the shutdown. Many Americans of modest means who lack healthcare insurance will be able to sign up for subsidized policies on newly-created insurance exchanges.