Washington — The federal government shut down today at 12:01 a.m. after a day of high drama on Capitol Hill and the failure to end a partisan impasse over a series of short-term spending bills.
“This is a sad day for America,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Beginning today, about 7,000 federal workers in Connecticut will at least temporarily lose their paychecks — although military personnel and “essential employees” will continue to work and some 2,000 members of the Armed Forces will continue to get paid.
Some government services, such as help from the IRS or the Social Security Administration, won’t be available, and most new federal funds for Connecticut’s state government and its defense contractors will stop.
Disruptions in federal nutrition programs and other social services are also expected, especially if the shutdown lasts longer than about a week. Applications of federally backed mortgages and federal loans will face delays.
The shutdown occurred because the Democratic-controlled Senate insisted on a short-term “continuing resolution” that would fund the government at current levels until Nov. 15.
The House, however, approved three bills that would continue government operations until Dec. 15 but either defund Obamacare, postpone its implementation for a year or stall the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which requires most Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty. The Senate rejected all of them.
“Some 50 tea party members of the House are holding the economy hostage to their belief we should repeal the health care bill,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
The last House bill the Senate rejected Monday night would also have taken away subsidies for members of Congress that would have helped them purchase insurance on state health exchanges that are open today. The Affordable Care Act contains a provision that members of Congress, and most congressional staff, must buy their health insurance on exchanges, instead of through the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, which offers more than 200 policies.
As the deadline for a shutdown loomed late Monday, Republican House leaders — for the first time — sought to set up negotiations with the Senate over a compromise.
But Reid said the offer to negotiate was “just a subterfuge to satisfy the tea party-driven Republicans.”
“We will not go to conference until we get a clean (continuing budget resolution),” Reid said. “We will not go to conference with a gun to our heads.”
Murphy, however, said he was optimistic that the House would eventually approve a continuing resolution that the Senate would accept because each time it voted out a bill, its anti-Affordable Care Act provisions were weaker and weaker.
“The fact that the House continues to back off and back off is a sign,” Murphy said.
Also, Republican moderates have been getting more nervous about the situation, thinking a shutdown would hurt them politically as the last one that began at the end of 1995 did.
“I saw that movie back in 1995, I know how it ends,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
According to the Congressional Research Service, there have been 17 federal government shutdowns since 1977. Most lasted three days or less.
But the last shutdown lasted three weeks, from Dec. 16, 1995, through Jan. 5, 1996.
“This kind of brinksmanship is sad if you believe in the institution,” said Rep. John Larson, D-1st District.
But like most Democrats, Larson blamed his Republican colleagues, especially about 50 tea party members, for the shutdown.
“This is what can happen when a small segment within the government is at war with itself,” he said.
Earlier Monday, the Senate rejected House legislation that would keep the federal government running, but also would have delayed implementation of Obamacare for a year. The measure would also have eliminated the medical device tax that helps pay for the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats, including President Barack Obama, have warned of the dire consequences of a shutdown, especially in a recovering economy.
“A shutdown will have a very real economic impact right now,” Obama said.
Government services that will continue despite the shutdown include Medicare and Social Security payments. Amtrak, which is heavily subsidized by the federal government, said it could keep running its trains in the Northeast, for now.
The U.S. Postal Service will continue to function, although there will be delays. Federal air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration officials will keep the airports open. Federal court will continue to hear criminal cases.
Meanwhile, thousands of congressional workers are laid off without pay. The 27th Amendment to the Constitution protects the salaries of members of Congress, but not those of their workers.
Individual lawmakers will decide which staffers are “essential” and require them to work without pay.
At least one Connecticut lawmaker, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, decided that all of her staff is essential. She said Monday, “Should Republicans in the House of Representatives lead us into a shutdown at midnight, assisting my constituents and participating in the legislative process will still be my top priorities. My staff is essential to continuing those constitutional responsibilities and will remain on the job.”
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, is also keeping his entire staff working. But Murphy plans to furlough two-thirds of his staff.
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