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US Government Shutdown Nears as Congress Squabbles

An empty hallway is seen at the entrance to Speaker of the House John Boehner's office suite in the U.S. Capitol Sunday morning, September 29, 2013, as a government shutdown looms, in Washington.
An empty hallway is seen at the entrance to Speaker of the House John Boehner's office suite in the U.S. Capitol Sunday morning, September 29, 2013, as a government shutdown looms, in Washington.
Michael Bowman
The U.S. government is one day away from a partial shutdown, with no signs of compromise among lawmakers on a formula to extend federal spending authority. Absent a last-minute deal, non-essential government services will halt and hundreds of thousands of federal workers will be idled at midnight Monday.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic-controlled Senate remain at odds over a government funding extension.

Last week, the House passed a spending bill that defunded President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.  On Friday, the Senate restored funding for the Affordable Care Act, Or “Obamacare,” and sent the measure back to the House.

Just after midnight Saturday, the House passed another spending bill seeking a one-year delay in the implementation of a core component of Obamacare. That bill is now before the Senate once again. Democratic Senator Richard Durbin predicted the next move on CBS’ Face the Nation television program.

"We know what is going to happen," he said. "Tomorrow [Monday], the Senate will come in session. The House position is going to be rejected again, and we are going to face the prospect of the government shutting down.”

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy predicted yet another round of legislative "ping pong" once the Senate acts.

“I think 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 for the Senate to look at again,” he said.

What Does a U.S. Government Shutdown Mean?

  • Large parts of the federal government need to be funded each year to operate
  • If Congress cannot agree on how to fund them, those parts of the government shut down
  • During a shutdown, federal workers are separated into excepted and non-excepted employees
  • Excepted must continue to work, and will be paid when Congress funds the government again
  • Non-excepted are furloughed and not guaranteed to receive back-pay
  • Parts of the government dealing with national security and public safety and those with independent funding like the Postal Service continue to operate
  • Other parts shut down, including National Parks, the EPA and the processing of visa and passport applications
  • The last government shutdown lasted 21 days and ended on January 6, 1996
But Senate Democrats and the president have pledged to oppose all Republican attempts to tie their legislative agenda to what would normally be a routine bill to keep the government running.  Durbin says Democrats would welcome talks with Republicans on Obamacare, or any other facet of government operations once a shutdown is averted.

“Let us sit down in a bipartisan and calm way," he said. "Not with the prospect of shutting down the government or shutting down the economy.”

But Republicans say it is Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress who are being unreasonable.

“The president is the one who is saying, ‘I will shut down government if you do not give me everything I want on Obamacare.’ That to me is the president being intransigent,” said Republican Senator Rand Paul, who also spoke on Face the Nation.

Democrats point out that the Affordable Care Act already is law, and that Obama won reelection last year while defending Obamacare. Democrats also note that they are not demanding any of their legislative priorities in return for agreeing to fund the government - such as immigration reform or gun control - and are urging Republicans to show similar restraint.

Polls show Americans have deep concerns about Obamacare, but that the public does not favor a government shutdown. A temporary halt in non-essential government services will begin unless a spending bill passes both houses of Congress and is signed into law by Obama by midnight Monday.

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