WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government started shutting down early Tuesday after a bitter fight over the new health care law deadlocked the Congress and stymied every attempt to keep money flowing after the federal fiscal year ended at midnight.
It was the first such collapse of the government in nearly two decades and there was no immediate way to know how long it would last or how it would end.
The partial closure will shutter national parks and museums and furlough hundreds of thousands of federal employees. Essential services will still be provided; the military remains on duty, Social Security payments will be made.
President Barack Obama declared the government had officially run out of money for many services and operations when the fiscal year expired at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
“Congress has not fulfilled its responsibility,” Obama said in a video message sent to the U.S. military around the globe. “It has failed to pass a budget and, as a result, much of our government must now shut down until Congress funds it again.”
The White House Office of Management and Budget sent an alert to all executive branch government offices, telling them to start implementing shutdown plans: “Agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations.”
The shutdown came after the Senate and the House of Representatives engaged in a high-stakes political showdown well into the night _ sending bills back and forth across the Capitol _ but never coming close to a deal. It was driven by several different House efforts over the last several days to weaken the new Affordable Care Act, all of which the Democrats rejected.
“We believe we should fund the government” and that there should be changes in the new health care law, a drawn-looking House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters early Tuesday. He declined to answer questions about the shutdown.
The Republican-controlled House voted 228-201 late Monday to fund the government for two months while delaying the new federal health care law’s mandate that Americans be required to have insurance and canceling health care subsidies for members of Congress. The Democratic-led Senate voted 54-46 to reject the proposal, just as it did earlier in the day to a similar measure that would have postponed the entire health care law, the president’s signature domestic achievement.
As the clock ticked toward deadline, the House tried a new tactic, voting 228-199 in the early morning hours Tuesday to set up direct negotiations with the Senate by appointing a team of budget negotiators called “conferees” to work with Senate counterparts in the coming days. The Senate flatly rejected that proposal before leaving the Capitol.
“We like to resolve issues,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “But we will not go to conference with a gun to our head.”
About 800,000 of the more than 2 million federal employees will stay home after the plans are implemented sometime Tuesday. But more than a million active-duty military will remain on the job and be paid, according to legislation passed by both chambers and signed into law late Monday.
Joseph A. Beaudoin, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said he was deeply disappointed in Congress’ decision “to allow politics to trump the best interests of the American people.”