By ANDREW TAYLOR, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — Congress plunged the nation into a partial government shutdown Tuesday as a long-running dispute over President Barack Obama's health care law stalled a temporary funding bill, forcing about 800,000 federal workers off the job and suspending most non-essential federal programs and services.
The shutdown, the first since the winter of 1995-96, closed national parks, museums along the Washington Mall and the U.S. Capitol visitors center. Agencies like NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency will be all but shuttered. People classified as essential government employees – such as air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents and most food inspectors – will continue to work.
The health care law itself was unaffected as enrollment opened Tuesday for millions of people shopping for medical insurance.
The military will be paid under legislation freshly signed by Obama, but paychecks for other federal workers will be withheld until the impasse is broken. Federal workers were told to report to their jobs for a half-day but to perform only shutdown tasks like changing email greetings and closing down agencies' Internet sites.
The self-funded Postal Service will continue to operate and the government will continue to pay Social Security benefits and Medicare and Medicaid fees to doctors on time.
The Senate twice on Monday rejected House-passed bills that, first, conditioned keeping the government open to delaying key portions of the 2010 "Obamacare" law that take effect Tuesday, and then delayed for a year the law's requirement that millions of people buy medical insurance. The House passed the last version again early Tuesday; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the same fate awaits it when the Senate reconvenes Tuesday morning.
"You don't get to extract a ransom for doing your job, for doing what you're supposed to be doing anyway, or just because there's a law there that you don't like," Obama said Monday, delivering a similar message in private phone calls later to Republican House Speaker John Boehner and other lawmakers.
Boehner said he didn't want a government shutdown, but added the health care law "is having a devastating impact. ... Something has to be done."
It wasn't clear how long the standoff would last, but it appeared that Obama and Reid had the upper hand.
"We can't win," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., adding that "sooner or later" the House would have to agree to Democrats' demands for a simple, straightforward funding bill reopening the government.
The order directing federal agencies to "execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations" was issued by White House Budget Director Sylvia Burwell shortly before midnight Monday.
Around the same time, Obama appeared in a video message assuring members of the military they'll be paid under a law he just signed and telling civilian Defense Department employees that "you and your families deserve better than the dysfunction we're seeing in Congress."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that Pentagon lawyers are trying to determine ways for some of the Defense Department's 400,000 furloughed civilians to continue working.
He bemoaned the standoff, telling reporters traveling with him in South Korea, "It does have an effect on our relationships around the world and it cuts straight to the obvious question: Can you rely on the United States as a reliable partner to fulfill its commitments to its allies?"
The underlying spending bill would fund the government through Nov. 15 if the Senate gets its way or until Dec. 15 if the House does.
Until now, such bills have been routinely passed with bipartisan support, ever since a pair of shutdowns 17 years ago engineered by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich severely damaged Republican election prospects and revived then-President Bill Clinton's political standing.
Boehner had sought to avoid the shutdown and engineer passage of a "clean" temporary spending bill for averting a government shutdown.
This time tea party activists mobilized by freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, mounted a campaign to seize the must-do measure in an effort to derail Obamacare. GOP leaders voiced reservations and many Republican lawmakers predicted it wouldn't work. Some even labeled it "stupid."
But the success of Cruz and other tea party-endorsed conservatives who upset establishment GOP candidates in 2010 and 2012 primaries was a lesson learned for many Republican lawmakers going into next year's election.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.
17/10/2013 05:30 BST
Obama Signs Budget Bill
From the White House:
On Thursday, October 17, 2013, the President signed into law:
H.R. 2775, the "Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014," which provides fiscal year 2014 appropriations for projects and activities of the Federal Government through Wednesday, January 15, 2014. The effective time for the continuing resolution begins on October 1, 2013. H.R. 2775 also extends the Nation's debt limit through February 7, 2014.
Read more here.
17/10/2013 04:58 BST
White House Receives Budget Legislation
The White House has received the legislation to re-open the government, raise the debt limit.— Brendan Buck (@Brendan_Buck) October 17, 2013
17/10/2013 04:13 BST
Frank Lautenberg's Widow Reaps $174,000 In Senate Budget Bill
Hours before Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) won a New Jersey special senatorial election to succeed the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), U.S. senators paid tribute to Lautenberg in their own way.
Rushed to approve a 35-page deal to fund the government and avert a debt default, senators allowed a few unrelated provisions to slip through.
One was section 146, guaranteeing $174,000 -- the equivalent of one year's salary -- to Lautenberg's widow, Bonnie Englebart Lautenberg.
-- Ashley Alman
17/10/2013 03:59 BST
Federal Employees Back To Work Thursday
Director of the Office of Management and Budget Sylvia Mathews Burwell released the following statement Wednesday evening:
"Now that the bill has passed the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, the President plans to sign it tonight and employees should expect to return to work in the morning. Employees should be checking the news and OPM's website for further updates."
17/10/2013 03:36 BST
Stenographer Removed For Shouting On House Floor
A shouting stenographer was removed from the House floor as lawmakers voted on a deal to reopen the government and avoid a debt crisis.
The stenographer began shouting as the the House approved the number of votes needed to pass the bill. According to reporters, she was yelling about God and Freemasons:
Protester dragged off House floor. Apparently one of the stenographers from the dais.— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) October 17, 2013
Stenographer seemed 2 b shouting + delusional on floor. "This is not a House divided." Escorted from floor during vote,— Alan Ota (@Alankota) October 17, 2013
An official house court stenographer took to the microphone & was screaming ab God. She was saying in the hall you can't serve two masters.— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) October 17, 2013
Stenographer removed shouting about God not being mocked and the free masons— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) October 17, 2013
-- Paige Lavender
17/10/2013 03:27 BST
House Vote: 285-144
The House voted 285-144 to reopen the federal government and raise the debt limit.
17/10/2013 03:18 BST
Republicans Score Amazing Own Goal
HuffPost's Arthur Delaney and Dave Jamieson report:
After voting this year to keep federal employees' pay frozen, Republicans in Congress have accidentally given many government workers their first raise in three years.
It's one of several unintended consequences of the Republican gambit to defund Obamacare by shutting down the government. It isn't a nominal raise, and it won't improve most workers' lives one bit. In fact, so far it's brought mostly misery and anxiety. But here's how it's a one-time raise.
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers have been off the job for two weeks due to the government shutdown. As part of the deal hatched Wednesday to reopen the government, Congress included a measure to pay those workers retroactively for the time they missed, as a matter of fairness, just as it has in the budget impasses of yesteryear. The rationale: federal workers shouldn't have to pay the price for Congress's failures.
But in a symbol of just how wasteful a government shutdown is, lawmakers -- many of whom complain that the federal workforce is bloated, and who haven't granted workers a single cost-of-living adjustment since 2010 -- have forced federal employees to perform two fewer weeks of work for the same salary, all due to congressional squabbling. That's a full pay period, amounting to 3.8 percent of annual wages.
17/10/2013 03:14 BST
House Passes Budget Deal
The House has voted to end the latest damaging battle of divided government in a polarized Congress.
17/10/2013 03:13 BST
House Has The Votes
There it is. House has required votes to end shutdown, avert default.— Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) 4 years ago
17/10/2013 03:05 BST
Mitch McConnell Wins The Praises Of... Democratic Leaders
HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery reports:
There was a lot of back-patting among Democratic leaders Wednesday after the Senate passed its bill to end the government shutdown and avert a debt default. But some of their most effusive praise was for the leader of the other party, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who cut a deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) at the eleventh hour to avoid catastrophe.
"The Republican leader's cooperation was essential to reach an accord," Reid told reporters, noting his sometimes rocky relationship with the GOP leader. "I've worked with McConnell for many years. The last bit has not been ... [long pause] good."
McConnell "stepped up to be [Reid's] partner when it really counted," said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.).