Capitol failure :US wakes up to first shutdown in 17 years

Oct 02, 2013, 06:29 IST | Agencies

Democrats and Republicans were unable to resolve their differences over Obama's healthcare campaign, which caused the shutdown, forcing over 800,000 federal workers to be sent on unpaid leave, and gave rise to fears that it would cost the economy around $1 billion a week

The first shutdown of the US government in 17 years began as Congress bickered and bungled an effort to fund federal agencies due to a bitter ideological standoff over Obamacare.

Americans watched a colossal failure by Congress overnight and the shutdown of their government. For weeks, the House and the Senate blamed and bickered, each claiming they were standing up for what the public wants.

Closed for business: The mood was grim at the US Congress building after Democrats and Republicans couldn’t get together for the good of the nation. Pics/AFP

In the end, it led to the one outcome nobody wanted -- one that will stop 800,000 Americans from getting paid and could cost the economy about $1 billion a week. This is the first time the government has shut down in nearly 18 years. The last time it did, the stalemate lasted 21 days.

In a series of late-night votes, Republicans insisted they would only vote to fund the federal government in return for a one-year delay to the health reform law known as Obamacare, key parts of which go into force today.

Obama held firm to his own position, accusing Republican leaders of shutting down the government to ‘save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right wing of their party’.

“You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job; for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway; or just because there’s a law there that you don’t like,” Obama said.

The result was a political stalemate and the deadline passed to avert the first shutdown of the federal government since Bill Clinton faced down Congressional Republicans in early 1996. Later, Obama tweeted, “They actually did it. A group of Republicans in the House just forced a government shutdown over ObamaCare instead of passing a real budget.”

An hour and a half after the shutdown, US Speaker John Boehner held a press conference where he denied Republicans were trying to destroy Obama’s signature health care program.  

What is affected

Tourist sites
Tourists can forget about seeing Lady Liberty or striking a cheesy pose at Mount Rushmore. Even the war memorial will be closed to visitors

Museums and parks
The National Zoo and 19 museums and galleries, including the Natural History Museum, the Portrait Gallery and the Air and Space Museum, would close. Of the 4,202 employees, 688 will be retained to "protect life and property" - security guards, maintenance staff and people to care for and feed the animals at the National Zoo. Campers at national parks will have 48 hours to pull up stakes as the National Park Service shutters all its parks and monuments, including Yellowstone, Alcatraz and the Grand Canyon.

Congress and White House
Facilities are likely to remain open. However, tours at the White House will be cancelled as only a skeletal staff will continue work. At Congress, about 800,000 federal employees could see their paychecks jeopardised. While Congress agreed to retroactively pay them during previous shutdowns, the fractured nature of this Congress makes such a step unlikely.

The nation’s 1.4 million active-duty uniformed military personnel will stay on duty. About half of the defence department's 800,000 civilian employees will have to stop work, but there is a blanket exception for activities that "provide for the national security". But where employees are needed to work, they may have to do so without pay

Nasa will furlough almost all of its employees, though it will continue to keep workers at Mission Control in Houston.

Health and human services
The department will be sending home 40,512 employees out of 78,198 officials. The Center
for Disease Control and Prevention will continue ‘minimal support to protect the health and well-being of US citizens’. However, fewer staff will mean reduced capacity to respond to outbreaks and the agency will be unable to support its annual flu program.

What’s not
Postal services

Neither rain, nor snow nor government shutdown will stop the mail from being delivered, as the US Postal Service relies on postage revenue to fund deliveries.

Prisons and courts
Get out of jail free? Don’t think so. All 116 federal prisons will remain open, and criminal litigation will proceed. Federal courts will continue operating normally for about 10 business days after the start of a shutdown, roughly until the middle of October. If the shutdown continues past that point, the judiciary would have to begin furloughs of non-essential workers. But cases would continue to be heard.

National security
Employees will continue to work including border patrol and airport screening. Federal air traffic controllers would remain on the job and airport screeners would keep funneling passengers through security checkpoints, though some airports have warned of delays at security. Federal inspectors would continue enforcing safety rules.

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