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Government powers down; blame trading in capital

WASHINGTON — First slowed, then stalled by political gridlock, the vast machinery of government clanged into partial shutdown mode on Tuesday and President Barack Obama warned the longer it goes “the more families will be hurt.” Republicans said it was his fault, not theirs.

Ominously, there were suggestions from leaders in both parties that the shutdown, heading for its second day, could last for weeks and grow to encompass a possible default by the Treasury if Congress fails to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. “This is now all together,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill..

Speaking at the White House, the president accused Republicans of causing the first partial closure in 17 years as part of a non-stop “ideological crusade” to wipe out his signature health care law.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, gave as good as he got. “The president isn’t telling the whole story,’ he said in an opinion article posted on the USA Today website. “The fact is that Washington Democrats have slammed the door on reopening the government by refusing to engage in bipartisan talks.”

He spoke in a Capitol closed to regular public tours, part of the impact of a partial shutdown that sent ripples of disruption outward — from museums and memorials in Washington to Yellowstone and other national parks and to tax auditors and federal offices serving Americans coast to coast.

Officials said roughly 800,000 federal employees would be affected by the shutdown after a half-day on the job Tuesday to fill out time cards, put new messages on their voice mail and similar chores.

Among those workers were some at the National Institute of Health’s famed hospital of last resort, where officials said no new patients would be admitted for the duration of the shutdown. Dr. Francis Collins, agency director, estimated that each week the shutdown lasts will force the facility to turn away about 200 patients, 30 of them children, who want to enroll in studies of experimental treatments. Patients already at the hospital are permitted to stay.

Late Tuesday, House Republicans sought swift passage of legislation aimed at reopening small slices of the federal establishment. The bills covered the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Park Service and a portion of the Washington, D.C., government funded with local tax revenue.

Senate Democrats announced their opposition, saying Republicans shouldn’t be permitted to choose which agencies should open and which remain shut.

Ironically, a major expansion of the health care law — the very event Republicans had hoped to prevent — was unaffected as consumers flocked for the first time Tuesday to websites to shop for coverage sold by private companies.

The talk of joining the current fight — the Republicans are trying to sidetrack the health care law by holding up funding for the fiscal year that began at midnight Monday — to a dispute involving the national debt limit suggested the shutdown could go on for some time.

The administration says the ceiling must be raised by mid-month, and Republicans have long vowed to seek cuts in spending at the same time, a condition Obama has rejected.

In Washington, some Republicans conceded privately they might bear the brunt of any public anger over the shutdown — and seemed resigned to an eventual surrender in their latest bruising struggle with Obama.

Democrats have “all the leverage and we’ve got none,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said sardonically his party was following a “Ted Cruz-lemmings strategy” — a reference to the senator who is a prime proponent of action against the health care overhaul — and Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia said it was time to pass legislation reopening the government without any health care impediments. “The shutdown is hurting my district — including the military and the hard-working men and women who have been furloughed due to the defense sequester,” he said.

But that was far from the majority view among House Republicans, where tea party-aligned lawmakers prevailed more than a week ago on a reluctant leadership to link federal funding legislation to “Obamacare.” In fact, some conservatives fretted the GOP had already given in too much.

Gone is the Republican demand for a full defunding of the health care law as the price for essential federal funding. Gone, too, are the demands for a one-year delay in the law, a permanent repeal of a medical device tax and a provision making it harder for women to obtain contraceptive coverage.

In place of those items, Republicans now seek a one-year-delay in the requirement for individuals to purchase insurance, and they want a separate provision that would dramatically raise the cost of health care for the president, vice president, members of Congress and thousands of aides.

Boehner has declined to say whether he would permit a vote on a stand-alone spending bill to reopen the government, stripped of health care provisions, though Democrats and Obama continued to call on him to do so. “He’s afraid it will pass,” said Durbin.

Sen. Cruz, R-Texas, the most prominent advocate of the “Defund Obamacare” movement, said the Senate should follow the House’s lead and quickly reopen programs for veterans and the parks. Asked why it was appropriate to do so without demanding changes in the health care law, he offered no answer.

“None of us want to be in a shutdown. And we’re here to say to the Senate Democrats, ‘Come and talk to us,’” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., as GOP lawmakers called for negotiations with the Senate on a compromise.

It was an offer that Senate Democrats chose to refuse, saying there was nothing to negotiate until Republicans agreed to reopen the federal establishment.

“The government is closed because of the irrationality of what’s going on on the other side of the Capitol,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

In addition to “closed” signs and barricades springing up at the Lincoln Memorial and other tourist attractions, NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency were virtually shuttered, and Obama said veterans centers would be shut down.

Government workers classified as essential, such as air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents and most food inspectors, remained on the job.

So, too, members of the military, whose pay was exempted from the shutdown in separate legislation Obama signed late Monday. Employees whose work is financed through fees, including those who issue passports and visas, also continued to work. The self-funded Postal Service remained in operation, and officials said the government will continue to pay Social Security benefits and Medicare and Medicaid fees to doctors on time.

At the White House, aides discussed whether Obama should change plans for a trip to Asia scheduled to begin Saturday. Staffing was reduced at the famed mansion, where a groundskeeper working outside at daybreak said he was doing the work normally handled by four.

In Congress, some aides were furloughed and others said they were working without pay. Democratic Sen. Tom Carper sent an email to his Delaware constituents telling them not to expect responses to their emails and phone calls.

Lawmakers and the president were still getting paid, however, at a rate totaling more than $250,000 per day for all of them.

———

Associated Press writers Lauran Neergaard, Alan Fram, Josh Lederman, Nedra Pickler, Seth Borenstein and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

Images

WASHINGTON — Congress hung “Closed” signs on a big swath of the government Tuesday and sent home 800,000 workers in what President Barack Obama labeled an “ideological crusade” by the GOP. On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans traded blame for the first partial government shutdown in nearly two decades.

Barricades sprang up early Tuesday at the Lincoln Memorial and other monuments, and the National Park Service was turning off 45 fountains around the capital city. National parks from Acadia in Maine to Denali in Alaska followed suit, as did many federal workplaces.

Agencies like NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency were virtually shuttered.

But people classified as essential government employees — such as air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents and most food inspectors — continued to work. So did members of the military and employees whose jobs are financed through fees, such as State Department workers who issue passports and visas.

With the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate at stalemate, it was unclear how long the shutdown would last, or whom the public would blame for unanswered phones and locked doors.

Obama immediately labeled it a “Republican shutdown.” He said by closing much of government an out-of-control faction of House Republicans was putting the nation’s fragile recovery at risk of an “economic shutdown.”

“They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health care to millions of Americans,” Obama said in a Rose Garden speech, surrounded by people he said were dependent on the new health law.

Meanwhile, the health care law itself remained unaffected Tuesday as enrollment opened for millions of people shopping for medical insurance.

Whether students shut out of Smithsonian museums or homebuyers wanting government-backed loans, some Americans already were filling the pinch and the effects were expected to spread.

More than a third of the federal civilian workforce was furloughed — equivalent to the combined workforce of Target, General Motors, Exxon and Google — and many do jobs that private businesses rely on.

“There has to be better ways to run the government than to get to a standstill like this,” said Cheryl Strahl, who traveled from Atascadero, Calif., to take in New York City sites. She found the Statue of Liberty closed, despite its famous words of welcome.

“Why take it out on the parks?” Strahl asked. Many parks are too vast or wide-open to effectively close. A group of veterans who traveled to Washington to see the World War II memorial made their way past barriers and police tape Tuesday to walk its sweeping plaza.

The Senate early Tuesday rejected the House’s call to form a negotiating committee to resolve the deadlock over health care and financing the government.

Moments after the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., laid full blame on House Republicans, declaring, “The government is closed because of the irrationality of what’s going on on the other side of the Capitol.”

But Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said GOP lawmakers were listening to constituents who want to “stop the runaway train called the federal government.” Their message, he said, is “Stay strong.”

In the House, conservative Rep. Marsha Blackburn predicted the standoff might drag on for days if Obama and Senate Democrats refused to bargain. “People are going to realize they can live with a lot less government,” Blackburn, R-Tenn., told Fox News.

Another Republican, Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia, whose Norfolk-area district includes tens of thousands of military members and their families, tweeted “We fought the good fight. Time for a clean CR” — referring to a continuing resolution that would reopen the government without addressing health care.

It was the first shutdown since a budget battle between Republicans in Congress and Democratic President Bill Clinton in the winter of 1995-1996.

Congress itself was affected. Some staffers were furloughed and hearings were postponed. The U.S. Capitol canceled tours not personally led by lawmakers. Democratic Sen. Tom Carper sent an email to his Delaware constituents telling them not to expect responses to their emails and phone calls.

Lawmakers and the president were still getting paid, however, at a rate totaling more than $250,000 per day. Most of the nation’s 2.1 million civilian federal workers were either working with their pay suspended or on unpaid furlough.

The Supreme Court operated as usual, even welcoming tour groups, but was at risk of running low on money if the shutdown lingers beyond Friday.

Tourists were left with few other government options. The Smithsonian website displayed a red banner noting that “all Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are closed.” On the zoo’s website, panda mom Mei Xiang could be seen snuggling with her weeks-old cub through the morning, until the feed was abruptly cut off around 8 a.m. Care of the animals will continue behind the scenes.

The White House was operating with a skeletal staff. A groundskeeper working outside Tuesday morning at daybreak said he was doing the job normally handled by four workers.

Given the shutdown, White House officials were discussing whether Obama should change plans for a trip to Asia scheduled to begin Saturday.

The military will be paid under legislation freshly signed by Obama, but paychecks for other federal workers will be withheld until the impasse is broken. Federal workers were told to report to their jobs for a half-day but to perform only shutdown tasks like changing email greetings and closing down agencies’ Internet sites.

The self-funded Postal Service will continue to operate and the government will continue to pay Social Security benefits and Medicare and Medicaid fees to doctors on time.

The Senate twice on Monday rejected House-passed bills that first sought to delay key portions of the 2010 “Obamacare” law, then to delay the law’s requirement that millions of people buy medical insurance. Early Tuesday the House named negotiators for what would be a Senate-House conference to work out differences on the bill. The Senate rejected that gambit.

As the standoff continued, some Republicans voiced nervousness.

Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma called the shutdown “a big mistake.” Interviewed on MSNBC, Cole called on House and Senate negotiations to end the impasse.

The order directing federal agencies to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations” was issued by White House Budget Director Sylvia Burwell just before midnight Monday.

The spending bill at the center of the fight would fund the government only through Nov. 15 if the Senate gets its way or until Dec. 15 if the House does — and even an agreement to reopen government temporarily might do little to fix the underlying standoff.

———

Associated Press writers Connie Cass, Donna Cassata, Alan Fram, Nedra Pickler and Seth Borenstein contributed to this report.

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