WASHINGTON — National parks and monuments closed and hundreds of thousands of federal employees began an unpaid furlough yesterday, with no end in site of the first government shutdown in 17 years.
President Obama accused Republicans in the House of Representatives of forcing the partial government shutdown because of their “ideological crusade” to stop the new Affordable Care Act from taking full effect as scheduled yesterday. Republicans countered that they have been trying to keep the government open, but that the Democrats refuse to negotiate at all over any change to the health care law.
Obama said he was willing to negotiate on a range of issues, but not under threat of repeal of a law enacted in 2010, upheld by the Supreme Court, and debated in a 2012 election that he won over a Republican who wanted to repeal the law.
He warned that the shutdown, which has furloughed an estimated 800,000 federal workers, could hurt a still-fragile economy.
“That’s not how adults operate,” he said. “Certainly that’s not how our government should operate. … We’re better than this. Certainly the American people are a lot better than this.”
Looking to ease the pain of the shutdown — or the political fallout — the Republican House offered its newest proposal, this one a series of three votes to restore spending for three popular areas: The Department of Veterans Affairs, the District of Columbia with its landmark monuments, and the National Park Service.
“That's a reasonable, productive way to move forward,” Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said during an outdoor news conference with House and Senate Republicans.
But late yesterday, all three bills failed to secure the required two-thirds votes and died in the House.
Senate Democrats insisted on an all-or-nothing approach to reopening the government.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., dismissed the House proposals as “just another wacky idea from the tea party-driven Republicans” and an effort to “cherry pick some of the few parts of government that they like.”
The White House said it would veto any partial restoration of government funding.
“The president and the Senate have been clear that they won’t accept this kind of game-playing, and if these bills were to come to the president’s desk he would veto them,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said a “piecemeal approach to funding the government is not a serious approach.”
At the Capitol, congressional Democrats and Republicans worked to blame each other for the standoff. The Democratic National Committee created a website and the hashtag GOPShutdown. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, penned an editorial in USA Today arguing that Obama has refused to negotiate.
The Senate returned to business at 9:30 a.m. yesterday and promptly killed the House Republicans’ previous proposal — a midnight call for a conference committee of representatives and senators to negotiate their way out of the shutdown. The chamber rejected the idea on a party-line 54-46 vote, putting the ball back in the House’s court.
Boehner accused Senate Democrats of prolonging the shutdown, saying they had “slammed the door on reopening the federal government by refusing to talk.”