Americans have an immediate opportunity to show House Republicans how they feel about the government shutdown: Today is the first day citizens can sign up for President Obama’s signature achievement, universal health care, the law that has driven Republicans into such an irrational state they have sent the entire government hurtling off a cliff.
It is the first time in 18 years that the two parties are so far apart on the budget that they have forced the government to stop operating. Not only does the impasse mean that 800,000 federal workers are furloughed and more than a million others would be asked to work without pay, but 7 million infants and children will not receive supplemental nutrition, health care referrals and nutrition education under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — although some WIC funds may be available from individual states.
In addition, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families —welfare— runs out of funding on Oct. 1, although individual states may pick up the tab. SNAP, or food stamp benefits will continue, as will school lunches.
The federal courts only have enough money to keep operating for 10 more days, while the following essential services will be halted: the CDC flu vaccination program; FHA mortgage loan applications; gun permits; passport and visa applications; food inspections—including imported food; tax payments processed by the IRS; some Head Start programs waiting for new funding; national parks and museums—including Washington’s Smithsonian; and the Department of Homeland Security’s e-verify program for employers looking to hire.
The price tag for the shutdown to taxpayers—based on contingency planning, back pay, and lost fees—is an estimated $2 billion.
The House attempted to open negotiation talks, but because it requires the delay or defunding of Obamacare, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, dismissed it as game-playing.
“We will not go to conference with a gun to our heads,” he said, demanding that the House accept the Senate’s six-week stopgap spending bill, which has no policy prescriptions, before negotiations begin.
The House passed its latest gambit, a bill to delay for a year the requirement that individuals buy health insurance, by a vote of 228 to 201. The House proposal would also deny federal subsidies to members of Congress, Capitol Hill staff, executive branch political appointees, White House staff, the president and vice president, who would be forced to buy their health coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s new insurance exchanges. But that was quickly killed by the Senate, which stripped the policy prescriptions before sending it back to the House.
“They’ve lost their minds,” Reid said, before disposing of the House bill. “They keep trying to do the same thing over and over again.”
The president signed a measure late Monday that would allow members of the military to continue to be paid, but at midnight the government officially ran out of money.
“You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job,” Obama said in the White House briefing room as midnight approached.
The president called House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, but they only spoke briefly, less than 10 minutes.
“I talked to the president tonight,” Boehner said on the floor of the House, summing up the president’s remarks as: “I’m not going to negotiate. I’m not going to negotiate.”
The less rabidly conservative Republicans in the House were at a loss to explain what happened.
“You have this group that keeps saying somehow if you’re not with them, you’re for Obamacare,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, Republican of California. “If you’re not with exactly their plan, exactly what they want to do, then you’re somehow for Obamacare and it’s just getting a little old.”
“It’s moronic to shut down the government over this,” he continued.
Reid brutally lashed Boehner and put the blame for the shutdown solely on his shoulders.
“Our negotiation is over with,” Reid said.
“You know with a bully you cannot let them slap you around, because they slap you around today, they slap you five or six times tomorrow,” Reid, a former boxer, continued. “We are not going to be bullied.”
Reid called on the speaker to put the Senate bill up for a vote, which would almost certainly pass in the House because of overwhelming Democratic support and backing from moderate Republicans.
Democrats accuse the Republicans of being driven by the most extreme elements of their party—some estimate a faction of just 30 hard-line Tea Party members—to use the federal budget to beat back the Democrats on health care when they couldn’t do it through the traditional legislative process, the presidential election or the Supreme Court.
“The scary thing about the period we’re in right now is there is no clear end,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.
Even scarier is that the stakes may get even higher in two weeks when lawmakers have to raise the debt ceiling.