WASHINGTON: The U.S. government braced on Friday for the possibility of a partial shutdown of operations on Oct. 1 as Congress struggled to pass an emergency spending bill that Republicans want to use to defund the new healthcare reform law.
While there was still a chance of averting a shutdown, time was running out.
As expected, the Senate passed a straight-forward emergency-funding measure to keep the government running through Nov. 15. While 25 Republicans cooperated with Democrats to bring a week-long Senate debate to a close, in the end, no Republicans voted to pass the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said passing it would “send a message to radical Republicans” that they should stop standing in the way of operating the government by trying to first gut the U.S. healthcare law known as Obamacare.
Meanwhile, business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged Congress to promptly pass the spending bill and raise the limit on government borrowing.
A shutdown would likely result in up to 800,000 federal employees being furloughed. Most visible to the public, if past shutdowns are a guide, are museum closings in Washington that outrage tourists and attract television cameras, and possible delays in processing tax filings, for example.
But the government does not grind to a halt.
Large swaths of “essential” activity continue, including benefit checks and national security-related operations. Agencies were in the process of determining which employees would be considered essential and which not.
The 79-19 vote to end debate on the Senate bill was a defeat for Tea Party-backed Republican SenatorTed Cruz, who tried to tie up the Senate all week with demands that government funds be denied until President Barack Obama’s healthcare law was put on ice. Fewer than half of his fellow Republicans supported him.
Some of the most conservative and rebellious members of the House of Representatives, such as Republicans Justin Amash and Tim Huelskamp, stood in the back of the Senate chamber during the vote to show solidarity for ending Obamacare.
Republican Senator David Vitter came over and shook their hands after he voted against advancing the bill.
Senate passage did not end the crisis, however, as the bill faces rough going in the House, with manyRepublicans wanting to again attach an Obamacare amendment or other measure that Democrats would declare a poison pill.
Indicative of lawmakers’ desperation, some mulled the possibility of passing a bill to keep the government running for a very short period of time to avert a shutdown and provide more time to work out a longer-term deal.
Representative Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, a senior House Republican, told Reuters: “People are talking about a 10-day CR,” a so-called continuing resolution to fund the government through Oct. 10.
That could put the subsequent temporary funding bill on a similar timetable to a debt limit increase Congress must pass or risk a government default on its loans.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, during a press conference, warned Republicans against lumping those two measures together. “It’s two different subjects,” she said.