The two parties failed to strike a deal before the October 1 deadline on spending and budget due to differences over ‘Obamacare’, the signature healthcare programme of President Obama.
Obama lambasted the Republicans for being “reckless” in their apparent willingness to take down the government in order to take down the law overhauling major aspects of health care coverage.
He championed the law, signed it in 2010, then saw it upheld by the Supreme Court last year. “We know that the longer this shutdown continues, the worse the effects will be. More families will be hurt. More businesses will be harmed. So once again,” he said on Wednesday on the first day of the shutdown.
Obama urged the Congress to pass the budget and end the shutdown. “Pay your bills, prevent an economic shutdown. Don’t wait, don’t delay, don’t put our economy or our people through this any longer,” he said.
“I will not negotiate over Congress’ responsibility to pay bills it’s already racked up. I’m not going to allow anybody to drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud just to refight a settled election or extract ideological demands. Nobody gets to hurt our economy and millions of hardworking families over a law you don’t like.”
About 800,000 federal workers in the US were told to stay at home while national parks, museums, government buildings and services shutdown as a result of the deadlock.
Meanwhile, the White House said the Congress ought to open the government, return people to work, and “without drama and delay fulfill its responsibility” to make sure the United States pays its bills.
But the Republican party leaders, were not willing to make any changes in their approach, as a result of which Congress has not been able to pass the budget.
Accusing the Republicans of indulging in blackmailing tactics on the affordable healthcare laws, which came into effect on Tuesday, the White House threatened to veto any piecemeal bill funding only parts of the federal government.
“These piecemeal efforts are not serious, and they are no way to run a government. If House Republicans are legitimately concerned about the impacts of a shutdown – which extend across government from our small businesses to women, children and seniors – they should do their job…reopen the government,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.
Obama said one may not know the full impact of this Republican shutdown for some time but “it will depend on how long it lasts”. “But we do know a couple of things. We know that the last time Republicans shut down the government in 1996, it hurt our economy. And unlike 1996, our economy’s still recovering from the worst recession in generations,” he said.
Prepared to work with the Democrats and Republicans to grow the economy and create jobs and get our fiscal house in order over the long run, he said this shutdown isn’t about deficits or spending or budgets.
“This shutdown is not about deficits. It’s not about budgets. This shutdown is about rolling back our efforts to provide health insurance to folks who don’t have it. It’s all about rolling back the Affordable Care Act. This, more than anything else, seems to be what the Republican Party stands for these days. I know it’s strange that one party would make keeping people uninsured the centrepiece of their agenda, but that apparently is what it is,” Obama said.
Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said the White House’s position is unsustainably hypocritical. “How does the White House justify signing the troop funding bill, but vetoing similar measures for veterans, National Parks, and District of Columbia?” he asked.
Obama “can’t continue to complain about the impact of the government shutdown on veterans, visitors at National Parks, and DC while vetoing bills to help them,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama will not negotiate over Congress’s responsibility to pay its bills. “He won’t do that under threat of shutdown. And he won’t do that under threat of default. This is irresponsible, reckless behaviour,” Carney told reporters.
Ro Khanna, the Indian-American Congressional candidate from California, said that gridlock and dysfunction in Congress is jeopardising the US economic recovery and threatening the future competitiveness.
Meanwhile, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi opposed the latest House Republican proposal offering to fund specific parts of government. The House Democratic Whip Steny H Hoyer urged the House Republicans to put a clean continuing resolution on the Floor for a vote to end the Republican government shutdown.
Late Tuesday night, the House rejected three appropriations resolutions that would have funded the District of Columbia, veterans programmes and national parks. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of rooting for a shutdown to help their 2014 electoral hopes, while the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor used a row of empty chairs to highlight what he said was Democrats’ refusal to negotiate.