More than half a million U.S. federal employees are bracing to be furloughed as the government veers toward its first shutdown in 17 years.
If Democratic and Republican lawmakers fail to reach a deal by midnight (04:00 GMT Tuesday) on how to continue funding the government, more than 700,000 workers would be sent home on unpaid leave for an indefinite period.
Their conflict revolves around President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 healthcare law, parts of which are to go into effect on Tuesday.
The Republican Party insists any government budget must repeal or defund so-called “Obamacare.” They say the health care program hurts the economy by imposing more taxes and by forcing small businesses to provide coverage for their employees.
But members of Obama’s Democratic Party say the program, validated by the U.S. Supreme Court, is now the law of the land. It gives low income individuals and people without health insurance the chance to buy a low-cost, federally subsidized policy so that families will not face financial ruin in the event of a serious illness.
U.S. Senators are meeting Monday to review a House funding proposal passed Sunday, but Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has vowed to reject the bill because it would delay Obamacare and repeal a tax on medical devices.
Obama has said he will not let the law be gutted.
If nothing is passed by both houses of Congress by midnight Monday, all but the most essential government services will start closing down.
Tourists will find national parks and museums off limits, while anyone needing a passport or help with taxes would have to wait.
Essential services will continue, however. These include the delivery of mail, air traffic control services and programs related to national security and nuclear weapons and power.