US government careens toward shutdown
The US government careens toward a potentially devastating shutdown as Republicans and Democrats in Congress remain deadlocked on a budget to continue its funding.
Agencies have begun making contingency plans ahead of the October 1st deadline to pass a new funding resolution.
The Senate has passed a bill to fund the government through November 15.
But House Republicans have said they refuse to approve the bill absent a provision to strip funding from President Barack Obama’s health law.
The Senate is controlled by Barack Obama’s Democratic party, while the Republicans hold the majority in the House of Representatives.
As a result, lawmakers are at a stalemate as the deadline approaches.
Government agencies have been selecting workers considered essential should funds stop flowing.
The looming shutdown is one of two fiscal crises facing the US government. On October 17, the US treasury department’s authority to borrow money to fund its debt obligations expires unless Congress approves a rise in the so-called debt ceiling.
On Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama urged House Republicans to pass the Senate’s stopgap budget bill and to extend the debt limit, and demanded they not threaten to “burn the house down because you haven’t gotten 100% of your way”.
Barack Obama said if the nation were to default on its debt, it would have a “profound destabilizing effect” on the world economy.
“Voting for the treasury to pay its bills is not a concession to me,” he said.
“No-one gets to hurt our economy… just because there are a couple of laws [they] don’t like.”
The president described the healthcare law as “a done deal” and said the Republican-backed repeal effort was “not going to happen”.
Barack Obama said the Senate had “acted responsibly” in passing the budget measure and that now it was up to Republicans in the House of Representatives “to do the same”.
If the government does shut down on October 1st, as many as a third of its 2.1 million employees are expected to stop work – with no guarantee of back pay once the deadlock is resolved.
National parks and the Smithsonian museums in the nation’s capital would close, pension and veterans’ benefit cheques would be delayed, and visa and passport applications would be stymied.
Programmes deemed essential, such as air traffic control and food inspections, would continue.
The defense department has advised employees that uniformed members of the military will continue on “normal duty status”, but “large numbers” of civilian workers will be told to stay home.
Last week, the US House of Representatives a bill that would maintain the US government’s funding levels through November 15 but strip funding from Barack Obama’s health law, known as Obamacare.
On Friday the Senate passed a version of the bill with the defunding provision removed 54-44, largely on party lines.
“The Senate has acted and we’ve done it with bipartisan co-operation. We’ve passed the only bill that can avert a government shutdown Monday night,” Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid said.
“This is it, time is gone.”
The House is now expected to take up that bill at the weekend. Unless the two chambers can come to a consensus and pass a bill for Barack Obama to sign, the federal government will close on October 1st.