, WASHINGTON, Oct 1 – The United States lurched into a dreaded government shutdown early on Tuesday for the first time in 17 years, triggering agency closures and hundreds of thousands of furloughs as Congress missed a deadline to pass a budget.
Ten minutes before midnight bells rang throughout a deeply divided Washington, and after a day of furious brinkmanship President Barack Obama’s Democrats and rival Republicans, the White House ordered federal agencies to initiate their shutdown procedures.
“We urge Congress to act quickly to pass a Continuing Resolution to provide a short-term bridge that ensures sufficient time to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year,” Management and Budget director Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a memo to agencies.
Lawmakers had hardly haggled over budgetary matters in the final frantic hours before the deadline – the end of the fiscal year. Instead, they argued over whether to link the budget pact with efforts to delay Obama’s health care law.
“This is an unnecessary blow to America,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor two minutes after the witching hour.
As a mood of crisis enveloped Washington no compromise emerged to head off the first such disaster since 1996.
Instead, the Democratic-led Senate and Republican House of Representatives played a futile game, sending funding bills between them that were doomed to fail.
Obama accused Republicans of holding America at ransom with their “extreme” political demands, while his opponents struck back at his party’s supposed arrogance.
Around 800,000 government workers are expected to be sent home, government services are to be slashed and monuments such as the Statue of Liberty and national parks will close.
The crisis is rooted in an attempt by “Tea Party” Republicans in the House to make passage of a new government budget conditional on thwarting Obama’s signature health reform law.
The Democratic-led Senate and the president have repeatedly rejected this strategy and urged Republicans to pass an extension to government funding to temporarily stave off the shutdown.
In a deeper sense, the shutdown is the most serious crisis yet in a series of rolling ideological skirmishes between Democrat Obama and House Republicans over the size of the US government and its role in national life.
“One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to re-fight the results of an election,” Obama said, referring to his own re-election.
“You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job, for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway,” he said, in a stern televised statement at the White House.
But on a day of accelerating brinkmanship, Republicans doubled down on their bid to gut Obamacare, as the health care law, the most sweeping social legislation in decades, is known.