Government shutdown: Obama says healthcare act ‘here to stay’ as thousands of workers are sent home

The Guardian – Tom McCarthy in New York – Oct 1, 2013


Photo: The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is shutdown

• House and Senate fail to reach deal before deadline
• Estimated 800,000 federal workers told to stay at home
• National parks and museums closed, Nasa affected
• Signs of splits among Republicans over tactics

Welcome to our live blog coverage of the partial government shutdown, which went into effect at midnight. America is waking up to shuttered parks, silent call centers for veterans’ services, empty Pentagon offices and skeleton crews in White House and congressional offices. It’s the first government shutdown in 17 years.

The president signed a bill late on Monday defending against one of the most painful effects of a shutdown: the bill ensured there would be no delay in delivering paychecks to active-duty military personnel. The core services of other big government programs, including Medicare and social security, were expected to operate as usual.

The House and Senate played ping-pong on Monday with stopgap spending resolutions that would have kept the government open if they were able to agree on one. The last House resolution retained delays in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act that the Senate leadership had made clear would be rejected. The resolution was rejected, and at about 11.40pm ET the office of management of the budget sent out a memo ordering agencies to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations.” Read Jim Newell’s play-by-play of last night’s action here, and Graeme Wearden’s early-morning updates here.

Just before the shutdown, House Republicans made a significant move on the overall budget issue, electing to join a conference with the Senate to cut an actual budget deal, a step the House leadership had been resisting. Senate majority leader Harry Reid said he would not bargain over the current spending measure at a budget conference.

The president plans to make a statement today at 12.25pm ET in the Rose Garden, the White House advises.

As the two parties try to reach a spending agreement, they also are trying to pin the blame for the shutdown on the other side. In a statement in the briefing room yesterday afternoon the president said Republican maneuvers resulting in a government shutdown would be the “height of irresponsibility.” Expect the president to expand on that theme this afternoon.

Last time the government shut down, the Republican Congress caught the blame and the Democratic president emerged the stronger. That fact is not lost on the Obama administration, which is using president Clinton’s playbook, Bloomberg reports:

Five administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and budget director Sylvia Burwell, were central figures during the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996. That two-stage battle pitted a House Republican majority against Democratic President Bill Clinton and resulted in a public relations defeat for the Republicans.

Now, Like Clinton, Obama is casting his Republican rivals as partisan warriors willing to put the country’s economic future at risk to score political points with their base.

While Clinton chided Republicans for putting “ideology ahead of common sense” in a 1995 address, Obama told reporters yesterday that “House Republicans continue to tie funding of the government to ideological demands.”

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, sees the shutdown as a boon to the president because it distracts from the administration’s woes elsewhere:

“Obamacare is going to have a lot of problems in its rollout… the president’s poll numbers are falling in every category,” McCain told MSNBC. “Yet the story to the American people is Republicans are fighting Republicans – that’s not helpful.”

 


Photo: Tourists look at a sign announcing that the Statue of Liberty is closed due to a US government shutdown in New York by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

The Senate has killed the House GOP request for a budget conference, again along party lines, 54-46.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid is on the floor of the Senate decrying the House request as a cynical 11th-hour ploy meant to portray the GOP as being serious about making a budget deal when in fact the party has, Reid says, ignored six months’ worth of Senate requests for a conference. Here’s Reid:

Sen. Murray [Patty Murray, D-Washington, budget committee chairwoman] has asked to go to conference 18 times. [McCain] has asked eight times himself. This has gone on for six months.

But it’s a clock tick past midnight… Boehner demanded the very conference they shunned us with for six months.

This display I hope would be embarrassing for House Republicans and Senate Republicans… what a deal!

If the House passes the piece of legislation they have over there… to reopen government, we’re happy to go to conference – why wouldn’t we? We’ve been asking to do that for months and months.

Dan Roberts also has the inside story of how the shutdown played out in the halls of Congress last night:

Unfortunately, much of Washington acted as if it had seen this movie before. The metaphorical tumbleweed blowing down the corridors of Capitol Hill reflected not a fear of being caught in the crossfire, but a cynical war-weariness that left many lawmakers on the sidelines until it was too late. After three years of similar standoffs over the federal budget that were resolved at the last minute, no one could quite believe that this one would finish with shots fired.

Read the full story here.

US shutdown: gunslinging and standoffs straight out of Hollywood

Democrat sheriff Barack Obama and his Republican foes have been on the brink many times in the past three years, but the last 48 hours were as bizarre as they were unpredictable

The great US government shutdown of 2013 began, said the Iowa senator Tom Harkin, “like a scene from the Hollywood western High Noon”. There was the Democrat sheriff Barack Obama, squared off against a gang of southern gunslingers, both sides determined not to give an inch and prepared to blow each other’s brains out to get what they came for.

Unfortunately, much of Washington acted as if it had seen this movie before. The metaphorical tumbleweed blowing down the corridors of Capitol Hill reflected not a fear of being caught in the crossfire, but a cynical war-weariness that left many lawmakers on the sidelines until it was too late. After three years of similar standoffs over the federal budget that were resolved at the last minute, no one could quite believe that this one would finish with shots fired.

For several days leading up to Monday night’s deadline for passing new federal spending authorisation, the familiar clash between Republican and Democrat leaders was characterised not by dramatic tension but over-rehearsed exchanges of rhetoric. The House speaker, John Boehner, would insist that he had “no interest in shutting down the government”, then launch another salvo of impossible demands at the Democrats that risked doing just that. No matter how many times the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said he would not negotiate in the face of such threats, Republicans would try again to attach riders to the spending authorisation aimed at repealing the vexed healthcare legislation known as Obamacare.

So convinced were both sides that the other was bluffing that the White House is said not to have made serious preparations to deal with a possible shutdown until the last 48 hours. A bizarre all-night speech by Senator Ted Cruz last Thursday might have looked like an old-fashioned filibuster designed to force the agenda, but was actually just for show once the Senate timetable had long since been set in train. Wall Street barely noticed what was going on until Monday morning, when the Dow Jones index fell sharply and the penny dropped that Congress might not cut a deal this time.

With hindsight, the fact that both sides had come to the brink so many times before was part of the problem, not a reason for complacency. The “fiscal cliff” crisis in December 2012 resulted in a messy compromise that weakened Boehner’s position within his own party and emboldened hardliners. Likewise, the anger among Democrats that started when Obama averted a shutdown in 2011 by cutting government spending only fuelled a sense of injustice in his own party. The name-calling that followed – Reid claimed on Monday that House Republicans had “lost their minds” – will make peace and reconciliation that much harder.

Despite the slow buildup, these mounting emotions resulted in a final nine hours that could well have been scripted by Hollywood. The many reporters camped out in the warren of Capitol Hill corridors began to realise that they were in for a long night when the door to a private meeting of House Republicans opened briefly on Monday afternoon to let one of them go to the bathroom. Out slipped a roar of applause, as the majority party loudly cheered plans to make a fresh series of demands over Obamacare that they must have known Democrats would reject.

So bitter had the fight become that Senator David Vitter successfully pushed an amendment targeting lawmakers’ own staff members – depriving them of standard employee health insurance subsidies worth thousands of dollars just to prove a political point. Amid stacks of pizza boxes and rumours of heavy drinking, both chambers settled in for a night of votes that were no longer designed to avert a shutdown, but to decide which side would get the blame for causing it.

Shuttling along the third floor corridor that links the two public galleries, it was almost possible to sense the political momentum being passed back and forth between House and Senate as each side tried not to end up holding the bill when midnight struck. House votes took longer to set up, allowing an hour or two of angry denunciations on the floor. At one point the minority whip Steny Hoyer shouted after a departing Boehner to accuse him of bringing “shame on the House”. Then the spending resolution would be pinged back to the upper house where Democrat grandees such as Chuck Schumer were more withering with their scorn. “I sort of feel sorry for [Boehner],” he said before helping swiftly to kill off two House proposals in quick succession with brutal majority votes lasting less than half an hour each.

And just when a shutdown looked most inevitable, a glimmer of hope would emerge. The Republican security hawk Peter King emerged as an unlikely moderate champion in the House when he threatened to vote with Democrats to kill off the Vitter amendment. Allies claimed he had 25 rebels with him that would block both a procedural motion and Boehner’s last big legislative push. In the end the Republican whip Kevin McCarthy prevailed, urging his caucus to stand united. King persuaded only five colleagues to vote with him – and four of them were actually conservatives demanding that the leadership toughen up the language.

A similar false dawn occurred just before midnight when Republicans announced that they would pause hostilities to discuss formal peace talks, or a “conference” in the jargon. Perhaps Boehner would allow a simple vote on the funding resolution after all, mused hopeful onlookers. But up popped a laconic Republican aide in the press gallery to reassure reporters that this was no climbdown; simply another step in the long-drawn process of apportioning in blame. “I have both breakfast and lunch packed in a bag already,” she warned reporters hoping for an early exit. By the time Reid called a halt and announced that the Senate would refuse to “play games” by taking part in these conference talks, the White House already had its statement ready to go informing government officials to prepare for shutdown.

There were lighter moments, most noticeably during Cruz’s 23-hour pseudo-filibuster which fell an hour short of the all-time Senate record set by the anti-civil rights senator Strom Thurmond in the 1950s. At one point Cruz filled the time by reading a Dr Seuss book to his young children watching at home. Rand Paul, who held a shorter filibuster against drone strikes last year, revealed that he had persuaded Cruz to swap his cowboy boots for tennis shoes to cope with the need to stand up for so long. Senate staff members openly speculated as to whether Cruz had opted for a catheter or adult diaper to cope with the other physical consequences of such marathon speaking feats.

But acknowledging the human frailties of Congress may be scant consolation for the millions of Americans now facing the consequences of their headlong rush towards shutdown. Though essential government services will continue for now, 800,000 other public employees will be told to stay at home, many without pay, causing untold disruption to everything from national parks to the Nasa’s space programme. The long-simmering resentment and bitterness that drove politicians to the brink will make it mighty hard to find a way back.

Part of the difficulty this morning for 2m federal workers is that many did not find out until they showed up for work as usual whether they were part of the “essential” core that would be kept on the job. Some were told to stay. Others were sent home.

The Guardian’s Paul Lewis (@PaulLewis) and Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) are watching the shutdown unfold in Washington:

Some federal workers were reportedly instructed to switch off their BlackBerry smartphones to prevent them from working remotely, a disciplinary offence.

From 7am, forlorn-looking commuters could be seen heading to government buildings and agencies across Washington DC, where they would learn their fate. The city, where the government is a huge employer, will feel the impact of the federal shutdown more acutely than anywhere else in the US. The White House said it estimates a one-week shutdown would cost the wider US economy $10bn.

Senate minority whip John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, says Democrats are “whistling past the graveyard” in asserting that the Affordable Care Act is not negotiable:

“This is the law of the land. It’s perfect. Couldn’t be better,” Cornyn, on the Senate floor, ridicules his Democratic colleagues as saying. “That’s like whistling past the graveyard.”

Then Cornyn accuses Democrats of engineering the shutdown because polls show Republicans will take the blame:

They’re looking at polls…They’re willing to risk shutdown of the federal government just to gain political advantage… The Democrats have doubled down on their strategy, hoping to gain political advantage at the expense of people hurt.

Shut down: Freedom of Information Act requests.

The justice department claims it can’t meet FOIA deadlines in an Electronic Frontier Foundation lawsuit over phone metadata collection because of the shutdown, Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports:

Just hours after the partial government shutdown kicked in, Justice Department lawyers filed a motion Tuesday morning with a federal judge in Oakland, Calif. seeking to postpone all deadlines in connection with a suit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The motion submitted to U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers (and posted here) says the government will be unable to continue reviewing documents for release because both DOJ lawyers and intelligence community personnel involved in the process are being furloughed.

Here’s the tabloid view, then and now:


Photo: Tabloid view of government shutdown then and now

John McCain, Republican of Arizona, argued Monday against the House Republican shutdown strategy, telling the House to accept fate and pass a “clean” spending resolution.

This morning McCain indulges in a preliminary bit of “I told you so,” directed at Republican colleagues:

From the Bloomberg story:

By 72 percent to 22 percent, Americans oppose Congress “shutting down major activities of the federal government” as a way to stop the Affordable Care Act from going into effect, the national survey from Quinnipiac University found. […]

A majority of the public, 58 percent, is opposed to cutting off funding for the insurance program that begins enrollment today. Thirty-four percent support defunding it.

Note that the poll featured in the story McCain links to is from last week; while the Bloomberg story is from today, it does not reflect new polling from today.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who with Ted Cruz of Texas led the charge to tie stopgap spending legislation to changes to Obamacare, is delivering a speech on the Senate floor calling for a focus on people whose livelihoods will be damaged by the government shutdown. “I want to focus our attention in the coming days and hours on those people,” Lee says, gravely.

It turns out however that mostly Lee wants to continue his critique of the Affordable Care Act. “I’d like to turn for a moment to people who are and for a number of months have been already [hurting],” he says. “Obamacare happens to be the No.1 job-killer in the country.”

Shut down: the US Census Bureau online. 

You can’t visit the web site here, but you can read a shutdown notice.

 

All census bureau sites are offline.

All census bureau sites are offline. Photograph: /Census bureau 

Shut down: Tweets from Voyager 2.

Not to be confused with Voyager 1, which recently entered interstellar space. Voyager 2 is only 15.37bn km away, according to the Nasa site that tracks it, which interestingly is still online here.

NASAVoyager2 @NASAVoyager2

Due to government shutdown, we will not be posting or responding from this account. Farewell, humans. Sort it out yourselves.

8:48 PM – 30 Sep 2013

John McCain may be trying to make a point by publicizing polling showing Americans oppose the GOP strategy of tying the shutdown to health care cuts, but most national polls on who gets blamed are rather useless in understanding what’s going through the mind of the House GOP, Guardian polling analyst Harry J Enten (@ForecasterEnten) writes.

Harry argues that, district-for-district, Republicans really aren’t vulnerable to voter outrage in midterm elections in 2014 because the districts are rigged:

While there are a number of reasons why House Republicans were willing to shut down the government, no answer is probably as satisfying as the fact that majority of House Republicans don’t live in districts that look anything like the rest of the nation. Thanks to urban packing and gerrymandering, Republicans don’t have to worry about losing to a Democrat.

The average vote share for President Obama in 2012 in Republican House districts was only 40.4%. Only 17 members of the Republican House caucus are from districts that voted for Obama in 2012. More than half of Republicans in the House come from districts that are 10 points more Republican than the nation as a whole. The average Republican district is over a 11 points more Republican than the nation.

The thing that most worries most members is likely a primary challenge, not a general election. The fact that more Republicans support a shutdown to stop Obamacare, as Quinnipiac found, is what’s most important for them.

That analysis leaves open the question on whether blowback from the shutdown represents potential damage to a party’s national brand, with consequences for membership, fundraising, turnout, activism, public support in hard policy fights and more.

Veterans of World War II have stormed their own memorial on the National Mall, barricades be damned, reporter Leo Shane III of Stars and Stripes tweets:

Honor flight vets just knocked over the barriers at the WWII memorial to get inside, #shutdown or no.

No sign of folks leaving. The vets have control of the memorial. #shutdown


Photo: Tons of applause as the WWII vets from Miss. storm their memorial. Park police on the way. #shutdown

8:41 AM – 1 Oct 2013

Guardian Washington correspondent Paul Lewis (@PaulLewis) is in the streets of Washington DC, a city in which the government is not just the main employer, but the lifeblood of the city. The impacts of the shutdown were immediately visible, Paul writes:

By mid-morning, downtown Washington DC had the throng of a busy lunchtime, as furloughed workers from all the major government buildings trickled out onto the streets after closing down their offices.

Everywhere from obscure government agencies to the White House was operating on a slimmed-down staff, with all so-called ‘non-excepted’ employees ordered to return home after turning up to work on Tuesday morning.

DC’s mayor, Vincent Gray, immunised many staff working for the city’s government from the shutdown, by declaring them all ‘essential’ workers, a legally contentious measure. But it at least kept the city movement, and guarded America’s capital from less sightly impacts of the last shutdown, in the 1990s, when uncollected trash piled up on the street.

Shut down: food assistance for low-income pregnant women, new mothers and young children.

The Guardian’s Erin McCann (@mccanner) is maintaining a list of departments furloughing workers and services that have disappeared in the shutdown:

The Wic program, which provides low-income pregnant women, new mothers and children up to the age of five with healthy food, is not funded as of Tuesday morning. “No additional federal funds would be available,” says the Department of Agriculture, though it suggests that some states – some, not all – may have a state-run fund that can fill in the gaps for women who need help purchasing things like formula. They estimate the state funds would last about a week.

School lunches for low-income students are not affected. Food stamps are not affected.

Guardian Washington correspondent Paul Lewis  is in the streets of Washington DC, a city in which the government is not just the main employer, but the lifeblood of the city.The impacts of the shutdown were immediately visible, Paul writes:

By mid-morning, downtown Washington DC had the throng of a busy lunchtime, as furloughed workers from all the major government buildings trickled out onto the streets after closing down their offices.

Everywhere from obscure government agencies to the White House was operating on a slimmed-down staff, with all so-called ‘non-excepted’ employees ordered to return home after turning up to work on Tuesday morning.

DC’s mayor, Vincent Gray, immunised many staff working for the city’s government from the shutdown, by declaring them all ‘essential’ workers, a legally contentious measure. But it at least kept the city movement, and guarded America’s capital from less sightly impacts of the last shutdown, in the 1990s, when uncollected trash piled up on the street.

President Obama begins.

“For the first time in 17 years, the Republicans in Congress chose to shut down the federal government,” he begins, “all because they didn’t like one law.”

Republicans in the House… refused to fund the government unless we defunded or dismantled the ACA. They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade… in other words they’ve demanded a ransom just to do their job.

Obama calls it the “Republican shutdown.”

Obama says that moderate Republicans would’ve helped pass a “clean” stopgap spending bill but they couldn’t because it never got to a vote.

“Had they been allowed… enough votes from both parties would have kept the people’s government open and operating,” Obama says. Then he returns to his diatribe against what he says is Republican intransigence:

“They don’t get to hold the entire economy hostage over ideological demands,” Obama says. He says he’s prepared to work across the aisle, but “this shutdown isn’t about deficits or spending or budgets.”

This shutdown is all about rolling back the Affordable Care Act. This more than anything else seems to be what the Republican party stands for these days… what’s stranger still is that shutting down our government doesn’t accomplish their stated goal.

Obama pivots to a pitch for the Affordable Care Act. He’s brought with him Americans whom he says will receive better and less expensive care. He tells their stories.

If these stories of hard-working Americans sound familiar to you… well today you … can get covered too. Just visit healthcare.gov…. You’ll find more choices, more competition, and in many cases lower prices

The president goes full telethon, repeating a phone number people can call to get insurance in case they don’t have internet access: (800) 318-2596.

“Let me just remind you” how important insurance is, Obama says

Obama says the GOP doomsaying has proven hollow:

Most Republicans have made a whole bunch of predictions that haven’t come true. There are no death panels. Costs haven’t skyrocketed… contrary to Republican claims, this law hasn’t destroyed our economy.

What’s weighing on the economy is not the affordable care act but the constant series of crises and the unwillingness to pass a budget by a faction of the Republican party.

Then Obama says the new health care site is working slowly because it is seeing intense traffic. “More than 1m people visited healthcare.gov before 7 in the morning,” Obama says

There were five times more users in the marketplace this morning than have ever been on Medicare.gov. That gives you a sense of how important this is.

Obama returns to “the irony… that they’ve shut down a whole bunch of parts of Congress but the Affordable Care Act is still open for business.”

Obama says even Republicans in Congress are telling the far right “to knock it off. Pass a budget. Move on.”

“Of course a lot of Republicans in the House ran for office promising to shut down the government,” Obama says.

Obama says there are rules to abide by “because we don’t want to hurt other people just because we have a political disagreement.”

Summary

Here’s a summary of the president’s speech:

• Obama blamed the shutdown on Republicans and said it was up to them to end it. He used vivid language to describe what he depicted as GOP extremism, referring to an “ideological crusade,” “ransom” demands and “holding the entire economy hostage.”

• Obama said enough moderate House Republicans had been willing to vote to pass a “clean” spending resolution and keep the government open but the extreme right wing had made that impossible. The president said Congress should “knock it off” and pass a spending bill.

• The president said the irony of the situation is that the health care law was being rolled out as planned and there’s nothing the GOP can do to stop it. “What’s stranger still is that shutting down our government doesn’t accomplish their stated goal,” he said.

• Obama said the new health care web site, healthcare.gov, had received 1m hits before 7am. He encouraged consumers looking for insurance to visit the site or call (800) 318-2596. He asked for patience with “glitches.”

• The president warned against further brinksmanship over the debt ceiling. If you borrow money to buy a car, he said, “you don’t save money by not paying your car note. You’re just a deadbeat.”

Read entire article here

Posted by Teri Perticone

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