Partisanship cripples Congress, government shuts down
The U.S. Senate and House failed Monday night to strike a deal that would keep government open on Tuesday. The Republican-led House passed late-night legislation for government to maintain operations at current spending levels, but included in the proposals were attempts to delay implementation of Obamacare, formally called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Democrats in the Senate and President Barack Obama said they would not negotiate over a law Democrats campaigned on and won a presidential election defending – a law that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The result: Without a compromise, as many as 800,000 government employees were furloughed today, national parks were closed and certain government contractors seemed likely to lose revenue.
Aspects of the federal budget uninterrupted by the shutdown include payments to men and women in the military, Social Security and Medicare.
President Obama, at a press conference this afternoon, quickly noted that his signature legislative achievement is continuing regardless of the shutdown because of its funding sources.
“The Affordable Care Act is a law that passed the House, that passed the Senate, the Supreme Court ruled constitutional. It was a central issue in last year's election. It is settled, and it is here to stay,” Obama said. “ … today Americans who have been forced to go without insurance can now visit Healthcare.gov and enroll in affordable new plans that offer quality coverage. That starts today.”
In recent weeks, Affordable Care Act-loathing Republicans declared they would only approve a resolution to fund the government if the health care law was defunded or delayed.
But much of the law's funding, as the president noted, has already been appropriated, including a key component, state- and federally-run health exchanges, which were unveiled today.
“This shutdown is not about deficits. It's not about budgets,” Obama said. “This shutdown is about rolling back our efforts to provide health insurance to folks who don't have it. It's all about rolling back the Affordable Care Act.”
There have been 18 federal government shutdowns since 1976. The most recent shutdown – prior to the one ongoing – began in December 1995 and lasted 21 days into January 1996.
Given its proximity to Washington D.C., Virginia's economy takes one of the hardest hits with Congress' budget-by-crisis approach.
Thousands of federal workers and commonwealth residents remain uncertain when they'll return to work.
“The first job of Congress is to pass a budget to run this country. That's what they haven't done,” a Loudoun resident and furloughed Department of Defense (DOD) employee said today. The employee spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his position with the DOD. “In fact they haven't passed a complete budget in quite some time.”
The employee predicted that Congress will pass a new spending plan in the days or weeks ahead and most federal workers will be paid retroactively.
“History says eventually I'll get paid for today, whether I was there or not. This is just wasting our time. It's taking away productivity. It slows down contracts … ,” the employee said, adding that the shutdown is “costing the country a lot of money. I mean, it's a lot of money to shut down and bring everything back up.”
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.-10th), who voted with all but two of his Republican colleagues on the House measures Monday, called for Congress to “be leaders,” “govern” and “open up the government” this afternoon.
“Mr. Speaker, I’m calling for the government to reopen,” Wolf said in a speech on the House floor. “I’m calling for leadership on both sides to resolve these issues. The FBI is being impacted. The CIA is being impacted. The National Terrorism Center, which is looking at leads that maybe coming to keep this nation safe, is being impacted …”
In Congress' upper chamber, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said it's irresponsible for Republicans to hold the nation's budget hostage over a single ideological issue. In a conference call with reporters, Warner sounded dismayed by the unprecedented actions of some of his congressional colleagues, calling this a “horrific day” the nation and Virginia.
"Today,” Warner said, “makes my worst day as governor in Richmond look not so bad."