It's Official: The Government Has Shut Down

by Seth Millstein

The government shut down for the first time in 17 years at midnight Tuesday after House Republicans refused to vote before midnight on "clean" legislation to fund the government. The Office of Management and Budget issued a memo at roughly 11:50pm to agency and other executive heads, advising on the shutdown, and government Twitter accounts began deactivating in the minutes before 12:00am.

The House opted late Monday night to vote on a conference committee, essentially a small group of House and Senate members, to resolve differences between the House and Senate bill. However, any compromise legislation hammered out by the committee would be voted on Tuesday at the earliest, making a shutdown inevitable.

Earlier in the day, President Obama slammed the Republican push to defund the government as “the height of irresponsibility” today, and reiterated that regardless of what happens in Congress, Obamacare isn’t going anywhere.

“An important part of the Affordable Care Act takes effect tomorrow, no matter what Congress decides to do today,” Obama said today, just hours before a potential shutdown. “The Affordable Care Act is moving forward. That funding is already in place. You can't shut it down.”

The president added that Obamacare “is a law that passed both houses of Congress, a law that bears my signature, a law that the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional, a law that voters chose not to repeal last November,” and said that Republicans are simply trying “to save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right wing of their party.

Weeks ago, Republicans in the House of Representatives embarked on a quixotic, impossible quest to kill the Affordable Care Act, refusing to pass legislation that funds the government—called a “continuing resolution,” or CR—unless it’s coupled with a provision that defunds, delays, or somehow diminishes Obamacare.

The problem with the Republican plan is that Democrats control the Senate and the White House, and Democrats generally like the Affordable Care Act. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pledged that any bill that modifies Obamacare is dead on arrival in the Senate, and President Obama has also pledged to veto any such legislation. However, the reality of this hasn’t yet affected the Republican strategy, to the extent that such a strategy exists.

To wit: Speaker John Boehner ignored Reid and Obama’s hard line last week, and passed a bill in the House last week that funded the government but removed funding for Obamacare. The Senate stripped the Obamacare provision and passed a “clean” CR instead. That bill went back to the House; Boehner refused to even put it up for a vote.

Instead, he passed a new CR that didn’t defund Obamacare entirely, but simply delayed the implementation of the law for a year—and, per GOP orthodoxy, stripped contraceptive coverage for women. As even a delay would probably cripple the overarching legislation (and was designed to do so), Senate Democrats rejected it as well, and Reid reiterated that any legislation tying Obamacare to the CR wouldn’t have the votes to pass the Senate.

“All of this is entirely preventable if the House chooses to do what the Senate has already done, and that’s the simple act of funding our government without making extraneous and controversial demands in the process,” Obama said today.

Throughout the episode, Boehner has refused to bring a clean CR up for a vote—which would require Democratic votes but would probably ultimately pass—and instead passed yet another CR that chips away at the Affordable Care Act. Reid, meanwhile, has explicitly ruled out passing a funding measure that’s tied to Obamacare.

“I’m always willing to work with anyone of either party to make sure the ACA works better, to make sure our government works better,” Obama said today. “But one faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to re-fight the results of an election.”

“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,” he added.

A CNN poll out today showed Congress with a hideous 10% approval rating.