Obama blames Republicans for shutdown
US president accuses the party of an ‘ideological crusade’ against healthcare law
US president Barack Obama delivers a speech on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in the White House yesterday. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters
US president Barack Obama and fellow Democrats traded barbs with Republicans over who was to blame for the first US shutdown in 17 years.
The running dispute over the budgetary standoff between the opposing sides escalated after government offices were closed and hundreds of thousands of federal workers remained at home on unpaid leave.
Calling on Republicans to pass a budget and “reopen the government”, Mr Obama marked the first day that uninsured Americans could buy health insurance under the signature legislation of his presidency, despite the shutdown. Republicans unsuccessfully sought to delay the law in the latest fiscal row.
Mr Obama vowed not to allow the healthcare initiative, passed in 2010, to be used as “ransom” by conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives as a condition of restarting government.
In an attempt to deflect blame for the shutdown, Republicans showed their intent to keep important parts of government open by preparing Bills to fund the National Park Service, services for military veterans and federal operations in Washington DC.
About 783,000 government employees face unpaid leave with no prospect of being paid once the standoff ends after the two houses of Congress failed to agree a short-term budget to fund government past the fiscal year-end on Monday as Republicans insist that Obamacare is delayed.
It is estimated that the government shutdown will cost the US economy about $1 billion (€740 million) a week. The last shutdown, during the Clinton presidency in 1996, cost $2 billion and lasted a record 21 days.
As the shutdown closed national parks and monuments across the country, angry second World War veterans stormed through the barriers blocking access to a war memorial in Washington.
The suspension of non-essential government services kicked in at 12.01am yesterday as last-minute Bills bounced back and forth between Senate Democrats and House Republicans without agreement.
“As long as I am president, I will not give in to reckless demands by some in the Republican Party to deny affordable health insurance to millions of hard-working Americans,” Mr Obama said in a press conference at the White House, flanked by people benefiting from the new health insurance law.
“I want Republicans in Congress to know these are the Americans you’d hurt if you were allowed to dismantle this law.”
Technical glitches blocked early access in some states on the first day of the roll-out of Obamacare and the start of six-month open enrolment period on the state marketplaces, or exchanges, where Americans can sign up.
Mr Obama described the suspension of government services as a “Republican shutdown”, saying that the conservative faction of the party had shut down the government “over an ideological crusade” to deny health insurance to Americans.
He said it was “strange that one party would make keeping people uninsured the centrepiece of their agenda”.
Mr Obama urged Congress to “pass a budget, end the government shutdown, pay your bills [and] prevent an economic shutdown”.
Republicans initially blamed Democrats for not moving fast enough to consider a Bill passed early on Sunday to link a government budget to a one-year delay of the president’s healthcare law.
Yesterday the party said Democrats were at fault for refusing to negotiate a compromise shortly before the shutdown deadline .