WASHINGTON – A flurry of last-minute moves by the House, Senate and White House late Monday failed to break a bitter budget standoff over President Barack Obama’s health care law, setting in motion the first government shutdown in nearly two decades.
After a series of rapid-fire back and forth legislative maneuvers, leaders of the House and Senate acknowledged there would not be a resolution in time to stop a shutdown, even as the House took steps to open talks.
But Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, dismissed as game-playing a House proposal to begin conference committee negotiations.
“We will not go to conference with a gun to our heads,” he said, demanding that the House accept the Senate’s six-week stopgap-spending bill, which has no policy prescriptions before negotiations begin.
The impasse meant that 800,000 federal workers were to be furloughed and more than a million others would be asked to work without pay.
In the hours leading up to the deadline, House Republican leaders won approval, in a vote of 228-201, of a new plan to tie further government spending to a one-year delay in a requirement that individuals buy health insurance. The House proposal would deny federal subsidies to members of Congress, Capitol Hill staff, executive branch political appointees, White House staff, and the president and vice president, who would be forced to buy their health coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s new insurance exchanges.
But 57 minutes later, and with almost no debate, the Senate killed the House health care provisions and sent the stopgap spending bill right back, free of policy prescriptions. Earlier in the day, the Senate had taken less than 25 minutes to convene and dispose of a weekend budget proposal by the House Republicans.
“They’ve lost their minds,” Reid said, before disposing of the House bill. “They keep trying to do the same thing over and over again.”
The federal government was then left essentially to run out of money at midnight, the end of the fiscal year, although the president signed a measure late Monday that would allow members of the military to continue to be paid.