What’s happening in Washington? Government shutdown explained
Congress unable to agree short-term budget to keep the US government funded beyond fiscal year-end
US President Barack Obama finishes a statement to the media about the government shutdown in the briefing room of the White House in Washington last night. Obama said the government shutdown was entirely preventable and accused Republicans in the House of Representatives of manufacturing a crisis that would hurt the economy and citizens across the country. Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters
What’s happening in Washington?
Torn apart by political wrangling between Democrats and far-right Republicans, Congress was unable to agree a short-term budget to keep the US government funded beyond the fiscal year-end at midnight last night. This led to the first government shutdown in 17 years at 12.01am (5.01am Irish time).
Republicans in the lower chamber of Congress, the House of Representatives, intent on unwinding President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law known as Obamacare, sought to derail the law for a period of a year by making this a condition of a temporary budget to fund the government.
Obama has refused to allow House Republicans unwind the single biggest legislative achievement of his presidency. The Democrat-led Senate has also refused to unwind a law passed in 2010, leading to stalemate on Capitol Hill, a deadlock reflecting the current dysfunctional nature of American politics.
So what went on last night?
The House passed a third proposal in two weeks approving government funding but again sought to undermine Obamacare. For the second time yesterday, the Senate rejected a House bill in a game of legislative ping-pong between the upper and lower chambers of Congress that had no winner.
Less than two hours before the shutdown deadline of midnight, the House began a process whereby it sought to start formal negotiations directly with the Senate over a short-term government funding bill.
The Democratic majority leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, said he would not resolve the differences with House Republicans “with a gun to our head,” making a government shutdown all but inevitable.
Earlier yesterday Obama blamed House Republicans for the failure to approve a short-term budget over their opposition to measures that were already law, saying that it was the “height of irresponsibility.”
“One faction of one party, in one House of Congress, in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government,” he said.
What does a government shutdown mean?
The failure to agree a federal budget means that hundreds of thousands of US public servants will be put on unpaid leave. An estimated 800,000 civilian workers out of 2.1 million will be affected.
More than 400 national parks and monuments, from Yosemite National Park in California to the Statue of Liberty in New York, will close to tourists.
Nasa will put almost all of its employees on unpaid leave, though staff will continue working at the space agency’s mission control in Houston to support the international space station.
The 1.4 million US military personnel were going to see their pay delayed until President Obama signed a bill, passed by Congress, into law late last night making them exempt from the shutdown.
The president and members of Congress will continue to be paid in the shutdown.
Are shutdowns common?
Yes, there have been 17 government shutdowns since 1976, the longest lasting 21 days over the 1995-1996 New Year period when President Bill Clinton faced off with the Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Republicans were blamed for the shutdown and Clinton was re-elected in 1996.