WASHINGTON — Congress missed its deadline early Tuesday to resolve partisan disputes over Obamacare and struggled into the early morning hours for a way out of a morass that forced the first government shutdown since 1996.
House Republicans were set to vote after midnight on a proposal calling for a small group of House and Senate negotiators to tackle the problem. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Senate Democrats would not agree to negotiate “with a gun to our head.”
Lawmakers still had some leeway early Tuesday to clear a temporary spending bill before most federal employees arrived for work on the first day of the government's new fiscal year. But the approach taken late Monday by House Republicans — and Reid's response to it — didn't bode well for a quick solution.
House Republicans have insisted through legislation in the past 10 days on changes to the health care law as a condition for keeping the government open. Senate Democrats refuse to address Obamacare in the must-pass spending bill.
Democrats blamed the tea party contingent of Republicans for the impasse, while Republicans said they had voted to keep the government open and Democrats refused so they could protect the Affordable Care Act.
Most government agencies officially ran out of money at midnight in Washington, and the White House budget office ordered them to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown.”
However, many important payments that people rely on won't be interrupted, and law enforcement and national security tasks will continue.
Back and forth
The Senate rejected a House GOP proposal early Monday afternoon that would have delayed parts of the health care law and eliminated a tax on medical devices.
House Republicans immediately responded with a proposal to delay the mandate for individuals to buy health insurance and require the president, vice president, lawmakers and their workers to purchase health insurance on exchanges without employer subsidies.
“I've never been for shutting down the government, and I'm still not,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore.
“But I think people judge that you're fighting for something principled in saying that Congress shouldn't have a special benefit and that other Americans shouldn't be required to do something that they don't want to do when big businesses are being let off. I think that's a pretty defensible position.”
Senate Democrats quickly rejected that proposal, as well. Reid said House Republicans had “lost their minds.”
“They keep doing the same thing over and over again,” he said.“Remember, they don't believe in government. So what's a good way to really hurt government? Shut it down.”