The United States began shutting down the government on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 at midnight after the battling Republican controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic controlled Senate could not agree on a continuing resolution, a stop-gap spending bill to keep the government funded for the new fiscal year. At the core of the conflict is the Senate and President Barack Obama wanting a "clean bill" without out any provisions, while the House has been insisting on some provisions to delays aspects of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, the new healthcare law which is beginning to be formally implemented and ready for individuals and families to start enrolling in also on Oct. 1, 2013.
With time run out and negotiations played out by Congress, the Office of Management and Budget's Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell formally sent out a memo late Monday evening for all government agencies to begin the first government shut down in 17 years, stating that "agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations." Approximately 800,000 federal employees will be furloughed as a result of the shutdown out of 2 million, and will also affect all aspects of the government at a time when the fragile economy is just starting to recover.
Earlier on Monday evening, Sept. 30, the House passed 228 to 201, with six moderate Republicans rebelling and dissenting, their third and last stop-gap spending bill to avert a government shutdown hours before the budget deadline. The bill still had healthcare law provisions, but was far more conciliatory than their two previous bills. Still the Senate voted against it 54 to 46 again along party lines, and then stripped the bill returning it to the House. The vote assured a partial government shutdown will begin at midnight Oct. 1.
The House's third and last offer before the deadline was a concession; a spending bill that had have two provisions; delaying the individual mandate, requiring uninsured Americans to purchase insurance through Obamacare or pay a penalty, and remove the federal employee subsidy for health insurance for Congress, their staff and the President and Vice President and their staffs and White House appointees.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va issued a statement which read; "There should be no special treatment for the well-connected under ObamaCare. Delaying the individual mandate and withdrawing special exemptions for Congress is the fair thing to do." Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH responding to the press about the impasse between the House and Senate, stated; "The house has voted to keep the government open, but we also want basic fairness for all Americans under Obamacare."
The Senate however, promised to strip even those two provisions from the law which they did again with a 54 to 46 vote along party lines, sending back to the House their same six-week bill funding the government until Nov. 15 with no attached provisions; the clean bill the President was demanding from Congress.
President Obama signing at the White House Monday evening, Sept. 30, 2013 the "Pay Our Military Act" was a sure sign the government shutdown was imminent. The military funding bill was unanimously passed in the Senate, Monday morning Sept. 30. The bill is a government shutdown measure that ensures that all military, reservists and essential civilians working in Department of Defense and as Pentagon contractors who will continue to work "providing support to members of the Armed Forces" and be paid while the majority of the government is furloughed.
At the same time House leaders called on the Senate late Monday evening to directly negotiate the budget bill in a conference committee with selected negotiators from each House, in what was a last ditch effort to avert the crisis. A House leadership aide explained; "It's regular order. It means we're the reasonable, responsible actors trying to keep the process alive as the clock ticks past midnight, despite Washington Democrats' refusal - thus far - to negotiate."
With minutes left before the deadline Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV formally rejected any negotiations over the spending bill, responding; "We will not go to conference with a gun to our heads."
Earlier in the evening, President Obama reached out and finally phoned Congressional leaders on Monday evening including making his first contact with Speaker of the House John Boehner in over a week, where they spoke for 10 minutes. The speaker's spokesman Brendan Buck stated after the call; "The president called the speaker this evening to discuss funding for the government and Obamacare. The speaker told the president that Obamacare is costing jobs and that American families are being denied basic fairness when big businesses are getting exemptions that they are not."
Earlier this afternoon the Senate voted down 54 to 46 the House's second spending bill that would have kept the government funded for three months, but also included provisions to delay elements of Obamacare for a year and repeal the medical devices tax.
President Obama later spoke at the White House warning Congress against imminent partial government shutdown that would commence at midnight if a continuing resolution spending bill would not be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President before then. Obama warned Congress; "Keeping the people's government open is not a concession to meet. You don't get to extract a ransom for doing your job, for doing what you're supposed to be doing anyway."
There have been a total of 17 government shutdowns in American history between the 1970s and 1990s with the December-January, 1995-1996 shutdown being the longest clocking in at 21 days. Then as now a Democratic President Bill Clinton was in a fierce ideological battle with a Republican House of Representatives.
The House's latest bill and offer to negotiate was a reasonable concession that the Senate just dismissed without considering how their actions will affect the country and acting blameless. President Obama and the Democratic Senate need to just compromise and allow the House Republicans some small victory, instead they want a winner takes all approach where only the American public will suffer and lose. In the end both President Obama and the Senate will primarily be to blame for their unwillingness to compromise.
- Senate Vote Rejects House Spending Bill, Stripping House Plan to Delay Individual Coverage Mandate, NYT, Sept. 30, 2013 -- Full text of the bill »
- House Vote Passes Spending Bill with Individual Coverage Mandate Delay, NYT, Sept, 30, 2013 -- Full text of the bill »
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.