Shutdown: Day One

Photograph by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

A man sits in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC, on October 1, 2013.

Updated at 9:39 am through 5:53 pm EDT
With David Lerman reporting from the Pentagon
 

The House’s Republicans have come up with another non-starter in the stalled budget talks with the Democratic-run Senate.

The White House says President Barack Obama would veto it.

The idea was to advance some smaller, specific spending bills for matters which no one disputes, such as Veterans Affairs or the national parks, while the broader question of a stopgap spending bill to start the new fiscal year is debated. That is stalled over the Republicans’ insistence on limiting the president’s health-care program in the process and the president’s refusal to consider that.

“These piecemeal efforts are not serious, and they are no way to run a government,” Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman, said in statement issued late afternoon. “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 and pass a clean (continuing budget resolution) to reopen the government. ”

“The president and the Senate have been clear that they won’t accept this kind of game-playing,” Brundage said, “and if these bills were to come to the president’s desk he would veto them. ”

* * *

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind’s blowing.

So you probably don’t need the government to know what time it is.

And that’s a good thing.

Because the ever-reliable Web-site of the National Institute of Standards and Technology — home of the ever-accurate time.gov — is down for the “lapse in government funding.”

This could help explain why the leaders of neither the House nor Senate appear interested in giving each other the time of day.

* * *

For the first time in 17 years, the sun was rising on a partially shuttered U.S. government.

The failure of congressional leaders to agree upon a stopgap spending bill for the start of the 2014 fiscal year today will idle 800,000 federal workers deemed “non-essential” and suspend the paychecks of many more who must report to work — with the exception of the military, the president having signed the one thing Congress could agree upon: Continued pay for the members of the armed forces.

* * *

Jeanette Joyner, an Army budget analyst who survived the 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, left her office today after getting a furlough notice, while bracing for the uncertainty to come.

“My office took a direct hit,” she said of the Sept. 11 attack in which hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. “I crawled out of a bathroom. If I can survive 9/11 and come back to this building, I can survive this.”

For Joyner, among the 400,000 furloughed today, absorbing the pain of a lost paycheck won’t come easy. Her daughter, who planned to attend Drexel University in Philadelphia this fall, will have to stay at home.

“That’s the biggest sacrifice,” said Joyner, a 45-year-old resident of Washington who has worked at the Pentagon since 2000. “That has to be put on the back burner.”

The same holds true for Christine Lamer, a 35-year-old information technology requirements specialist from Springfield, Virginia, who has worked at the Pentagon for the last five years.

“We have seven children and one in college so this has been a tough year,” she said as she made her way to the train station after getting her furlough notice.

“It will impact what we are able to provide for our children,” Lamer said. “It’s their education at risk. My job apparently is no longer stable.”

Lamer finds it “sad” that Congress can’t reach a budget agreement without making people suffer.

“We’re just being used in this game,” she said.

* * *

The president today met with people who stand to benefit from the Affordable Care Act that is at the heart of the House’s budgetary dispute with the White House, then brought them out to the Rose Garden.

“One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government” has shut down the government, Obama said, with the beneficiaries behind him. “They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to Americans.”

Had both parties had a chance to vote on a stopgap budget free of any restrictions on “Obama-care” in the House, he said, the government would not have closed non-essential services today

“The longer this shutdown continues, the worse the effects will be,” said Obama, urging the House’s Republicans “to reopen the government. “They don’t get to hold the whole economy hostage over ideological demands.”

* * *

House Speaker John Boehner accuses the president of engaging in “scorched-Earth” tactics.

“The president isn’t telling the whole story when it comes to the government shutdown,” Boehner writes today in an opinion essay for USA Today. “The fact is that Washington Democrats have slammed the door on reopening the government by refusing to engage in bipartisan talks. And, as stories across the country highlight the devastating impact of Obamacare on families and small businesses, they continue to reject our calls for fairness for all Americans.”

“This is part of a larger pattern: the president’s scorched-Earth policy of refusing to negotiate in bipartisan way on his health care law, current government funding, or the debt limit,” the Ohio Republican writes.

“In the meantime, in just a few weeks, Congress must act to raise the debt limit to pay the tab for President Obama and Washington’s out-of-control spending,” Boehner writes. “There is no way Congress can or should pass such a bill without spending cuts and reforms to deal with the debt and deficit and help get our economy moving again. But President Obama refuses to even talk about negotiating such a bipartisan agreement.”

“For years, the president has said that in a divided government, no one gets 100 percent of what they want. But when will his words match his actions?”

 

 

* * *

Is this a shutdown, a partial shutdown or a slowdown?

Republicans appear to be rallying around a slowdown — less ominous-sounding.

Remember the author of “Nine-Nine-Nine?” He’s on the slowdown bandwagon:

It also fits a broader theme the party is pressing:

* * *  

The way non-talks were going today, the partial shutdown of the federal government could last a few weeks — as Republican leaders focus on the other challenge ahead: Raising the nation’s debt ceiling.  

“We have a debt limit coming,” House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said today, as Republican House leaders ceremoniously sat at a one-sided table in the Capitol to offer themselves as conferees for stopgap budget negotiations with the Senate.

“That debt limit is coming in about two weeks… We think that’s the enforcing mechanism.”  Budget agreements traditionally have revolved around increases in the federal debt limit, Ryan said. And the current limit of $16.7 trillion is expected to be reached after Oct. 17.  

“That’s what we think will be the forcing action to bring the two parties together,” Ryan said. “We don’t want to close the government down, we want it to open, but we want fairness.”  

Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, seated at one side of a conference table with his Republican colleagues, said: “This table is empty on the other side, and we need the Democrats to come join us.”  The Republicans then sat there, for a photo opportunity, declining to answer any further press questions.

* * *
Local merchants are taking pity — or looking for business — in furloughed federal workers:
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     $5 OFF drop-in classes for federal employees through Sunday, Oct. 6.  
     (The going fee for drop-in peace-seekers is $21.)

* * * 
The federal workers affected, Obama says, are too often the “punching bags” in a “political climate.”

 The president asked his agency heads to circulate a letter of thanks, and apology, today to the many federal workers facing furloughs or suspended pay during the partial shutdown. 

These are the high points:

 “The Federal Government is America’s largest employer, with more than 2 million civilian workers and 1.4 million active duty military who serve in all 50 States and around the world,” Obama wrote. “But Congress has failed to meet its responsibility to pass a budget before the fiscal year that begins today. And that means much of our Government must shut down effective today.”

 “I want you to know that I will keep working to get Congress to reopen the Government, restart vital services that the American people depend on, and allow public servants who have been sent home to return to work.”  

“Today, I wanted to take a moment to tell you what you mean to me-and to our country. That begins by saying thank you for the work you do every day-work that is vitally important to our national security and to American families’ economic security. You defend our country overseas and ensure that our troops receive the benefits they deserve when they come home. You guard our borders and protect our civil rights. You help small businesses expand and gain new footholds in overseas markets. You guide hundreds of thousands of people each day through the glory of America’s national parks and monuments, from Yosemite to the Statue of Liberty. And much more.”  

“You do all this in a political climate that, too often in recent years, has treated you like a punching bag. You have endured three years of a Federal pay freeze, harmful sequester cuts, and now, a shutdown of our Government. And yet, you persevere, continuing to serve the American people with passion, professionalism, and skill.”  

“Public service is noble,” the president wrote. “Public service is important. And by choosing public service, you carry on a proud tradition at the heart of some of this country’s greatest and most lasting achievements. In fact, more than 50 current or former Federal employees have received the Nobel Prize for their efforts.”  

Including the president.

* * * 

Congressional leaders had no negotiations on spending legislation underway last night, Bloomberg’s Roxana Tiron, Richard Rubin and Kathleen Hunter report, “raising concerns among some lawmakers that the shutdown could bleed into the more consequential fight over how to raise the U.S. debt limit to avoid a first-ever default after Oct. 17.”

“Chances of a last-minute deal — seen so often in past fiscal fights — evaporated shortly before midnight as the House stood firm on its call to delay major parts of President Barack Obama’s health-care law for a year. Senate Democrats were equally firm in refusing to concede and planned a morning vote to reject the House’s call for formal talks.”

The Republican-run House blames the Senate for refusing to pass a bill House leaders insisted could keep the government open — while restricting the Affordable Care Act — and the Democratic-led Senate blames the House for shutting the government down with a bill clearly unacceptable to the White House or the Senate.

“It is embarrassing that these people who were elected to represent the country are representing the Tea Party,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said after midnight. “This is an unnecessary blow to America.” House Speaker John Boehner, speaking after 1 a.m. in Washington, called on Senate Democrats to come to the negotiating table.

“Let’s resolve our differences,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters. “The House has voted to keep the government open, but we also want basic fairness for all Americans under `Obama-care.’”

* * *

The finger-pointing was underway again this morning.

“No one wants the shutdown, it seems, but our friends on the other side of the aisle,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told the Senate during its first session of a government slowdown. `

`My friend, the minority leader, spoke as if George Orwell wrote his speech. This is 1984, where up is down, East is West,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, calling it “a good day for the anarchists… Speaker Boehner and his band of radicals have shut down the government.”

* * *

The non-essential services of the government may be shutting down, yet the president’s health-care program is opening for business. At noon today, President Barack Obama held a reception at the White House for beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act, the law he signed in 2010 with a goal of offering health insurance to millions of Americans lacking coverage. Health exchanges for those seeking insurance open for enrollment today. They are not shutting down.

The @GOP just shut down the federal government. But THIS is now open! https://t.co/UYaHmepF3R #ThisIsObamacare — Mo Elleithee (@MoElleithee) October 1, 2013

* * *

The Senate leader marked the day:

 


* * *

Still, the day would not pass without glitches.

Yet Obama noted something about delays today:

The Web-site, Healthcare.gov, was running slow this morning.

Because one million people logged on before 7 am today.

* * *

The House’s Republicans accuse Obama of refusing to negotiate over “Obama-care.”

He is refusing.

“We’re not going to delay the Affordable Care Act,” Obama said in an interview with National Public Radio airing on “Morning Edition” today. “There are millions of Americans right now who do not have health insurance. And they are finally, after decades, going to be in a position where they can get affordable health care, just like everybody else. And that means that their families, their kids, themselves — they’ve got the basic security that you and I enjoy.”

“And the notion that we would even delay them getting that kind of peace of mind, potentially going to a doctor to get treated for illnesses that they currently have, simply because the Republicans have decided ideologically that they’re opposed to the Affordable Care Act, is not something that we’re going to be discussing.” Obama said.

* * *

The slowdown of the federal government would cost the U.S. at least $300 million a day in lost economic output at the start, according to IHS Inc.

While that is a small fraction of the nation’s $15.7 trillion economy, Bloomberg’s Jeanna Smialek and Ian Kataz report, the daily impact of a shutdown is likely to accelerate if it continues as it depresses confidence and spending by businesses and consumers.

* * *

From the Lincoln Memorial to the Statue of Liberty, Americans will find monuments and national parks closed on this first day of a shutdown.

 

* * *

School’s out at the Department of Education:

* * *

A bitterly divided Congress faces another challenge in weeks: Raising the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt limit, a ceiling that has been elevated many times before.

A partisan stalemate that partially shuts down the U.S. government may lessen the appetite of lawmakers for risking a debt default later this month, Bloomberg’s Mike Dorning reports.

“The reaction of markets and the economic blow from a shutdown may sap the will of rank-and-file Republican members of Congress to go through with a second fiscal confrontation with President Barack Obama on the heels of this week’s fight, says Dan Meyer, who was chief of staff to former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and later a congressional lobbyist in President George W. Bush’s administration.”

“It has the potential to make a significant difference,” Meyer says. Some Republican lawmakers “want to play a little too close to the flame here and, frankly, some of them need to get their fingers singed.” Meyer, now a lobbyist with the Duberstein Group, says: “They’ll start feeling the heat pretty quick.”

* * *

The House’s Republicans, in their push to restrict “Obama-care” as part of a stopgap spending plan for averting a government shutdown, have complained that the Democrats are not listening to the will of the people.

However, a new poll out this morning suggests the public wasn’t at all interested in this shutdown, or in cutting off funding for the president’s health-care program.

By 72 percent to 22 percent, Americans oppose Congress “shutting down major activities of the federal government” as a way to stop the Affordable Care Act from going into effect, the national survey from Quinnipiac University found.

Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux reports on the survey: “By 64 percent to 27 percent, voters don’t want Congress to block an increase in the nation’s $16.7 trillion federal borrowing limit as a way to thwart implementation of the health- care law, which Obama signed into law in 2010 with a goal of insuring millions of Americans, known as “Obamacare.” A majority of the public, 58 percent, is opposed to cutting off funding for the insurance program that begins enrollment today. Thirty-four percent support defunding it.’

* * *

The partial shutdown of the government for the first time in 17 years has become a contest of who is wearing the cleanest dirty shirt, Bloomberg’s Michael Tackett reports.

“Americans haven’t identified any heroes in the budget fight so far, akin to how Bill Gross, founder of Pacific Investment Management Co., referred to the U.S. bond market during the financial crisis as the “cleanest dirty shirt,” because the securities were the best only when compared to how bad the alternative options were.”

“Unlike 1995, the public isn’t assigning more blame for a possible shutdown to one side,” says Andrew Kohut, the founding director of the Pew Research Center, referring to the last shutdown when Americans by 19 percentage points blamed Republicans more than Democrats.

* * *

This shutdown is hardly a first.

NPR’s history of shutdowns reminds us that, since a new budgeting process was put into place in 1976, the government has shut down 17 times. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan each dealt with six shutdowns during their terms in office, lasting anywhere from one day to 2 1/2 weeks.

The last actual shutdown came on President Bill Clinton’s watch in 1996 — though the government came close during budget negotiations in 2011.

The three-week shutdown that lasted from Dec. 16, 1995, to Jan. 6, 1996, ranks as the longest in U.S. history.

* * *

Some of Obama’s aides know this game from the Clinton playbook.

“Five administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and budget director Sylvia Burwell, were central figures during the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996,” Bloomberg’s Lisa Lerer reports. “That two-stage battle pitted a House Republican majority against Democratic Clinton and resulted in a public relations defeat for the Republicans.”

“Now, Like Clinton, Obama is casting his Republican rivals as partisan warriors willing to put the country’s economic future at risk to score political points with their base.

While Clinton chided Republicans for putting “ideology ahead of common sense” in a 1995 address, Obama told reporters yesterday that “House Republicans continue to tie funding of the government to ideological demands.”

“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,” Obama said.

“There are certainly some echoes in the message,” says Leon Panetta, Obama’s former defense secretary who was Clinton’s chief of staff during the shutdowns. “We learned some very hard lessons.”

* * *

Still no reason not to laugh a little:


* * *

Serious: Furlough means furlough in this business.

* * *

Bloomberg’s Jim Snyder answers some questions about the shutdown:

Q: What about the Internal Revenue Service?

A: All but 9.3 percent of the tax agency’s 94,516 employees will stay home. That means audits, non-automated collections and processing of paper tax returns would stop. The IRS would shutter its call centers just two weeks before the Oct. 15 deadline for individual taxpayers filing 2012 returns on extensions.

Q. I’m a federal employee. Do I come to work Tuesday?

A. About 800,000 workers out of 2 million federal civilian workers were affected during a government shutdown in 1995, and a similar number face furloughs this week. Those federal workers are required to show up for work today before getting notice that they aren’t required. Exceptions include jobs not subject to annual appropriations or those deemed necessary to protect life and property, like drug enforcement agents or food inspectors.

Q. Will my mother get her Social Security check?

A. Yes. Mail delivery is funded by postage fees, not through tax revenue. Social Security checks, which are paid for by mandatory appropriations, will also continue to go out, though new applicants may see processing delays. Medicare payments, which aren’t subject to annual appropriations, would continue.

Q. What about my trip to Yellowstone?

A. You’re out of luck. According to the Interior Department’s shutdown contingency plan: “All areas of the National Park and National Wildlife Refuge Systems would be closed and public access would be restricted.” Volunteers who work at park facilities are also being told to stay home.

* * *
In a shutdown, Bloomberg’s Derek Wallbank reports, members of Congress will have to take their jogging outdoors.

The members-only gym at the Capitol will be closed.

So will the staff-only facility for congressional employees.

“What stays open on Capitol Hill and who gets paid if the government shuts down, will be determined by who is deemed “essential,” he reports. “Each member, committee offices and officers of legislative branch agencies will determine who under their jurisdiction is an essential employee, according to the House Administration Committee.”

The Congressional Budget Office, which analyzes the cost of legislation, would “largely shut down,” CBO said in an e-mail.

The barber shops, dry cleaners, shoe shiners and ID offices are all to be closed. The child care centers will stay open, as will the post offices and credit union. Gift shops and the stationary stores close.

In Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp’s office, Wallbank reports, “the conversation has already begun about who would work in the event of a shutdown. Sometimes Huelskamp has delivered the news, and in other cases his chief of staff has.”

“We don’t say you’re non-essential, that’s the government’s term. That’s not a term we use,” says Huelskamp.

There are no such discussions in Wisconsin Democrat Gwen Moore’s office. “All my staff are essential,” she says. “I made that determination.”

 

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