Battle Over Healthcare Grinds US Government to a Halt

US Cabinet and Barack Obama

Washington – Around 800 000 non-essential United States federal employees will not go to work on Tuesday. National parks, museums and most federal offices will be closed. Congressional hearings will be postponed, and prison guards, border patrol agents and air traffic controllers will be required to go to work with no expectation of pay, reported the Washington Post.

Tuesday morning brings the first shutdown of the US government in 17 years after Republicans and Democrats were unable to agree on a spending bill to fund the government. Just before midnight on Monday the White House budget office sent out a memo to federal agencies instructing them to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations.”

The source of the contention: President Barack Obama’s healthcare care law, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The Republican party has been forceful in its opposition to Obamacare from the start. Monday night’s standoff took place because Republicans on Congress insisted the spending bill include anti-Obamacare amendments. Senate Democrats stood firm against this.

In a speech on Monday evening Obama accused the House Republicans of harming the economy of the US in order to “save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right wing of their party.”

“So let me be clear about this. An important part of the Affordable Care Act takes effect tomorrow no matter what Congress decides to do today. The Affordable Care Act is moving forward. That funding is already in place. You can’t shut it down,” he said pointing out that the law had been held up as constitutional by the supreme court and had by voters who chose not to repeal the law in November last year.

“Starting tomorrow, tens of millions of Americans will be able to visit to shop for affordable health care coverage. So Americans who’ve lived for years in some cases with the fear that one illness could send them into bankruptcy, Americans who’ve been priced out of the market just because they’ve been sick once, they’ll finally be able to afford coverage — quality coverage — many of them for the first time in their lives,” he added.

Not all Senate Republicans supported the shut down. The Washington Post reported frustrations simmering among some Senators who complained that House leaders were pushing the party against the tide of public opinion

“By wanting to repeal Obamacare using this method, it defies what the popular will is,” Senator John McCain was quoted as saying.

“I campaigned in 2012 all over this country for months: ‘Repeal and replace Obamacare.’ That was not the mandate of the voters,” he added. “If they wanted to repeal Obamacare, the 2012 election would have been probably significantly different.”

Although most Republican Senators support the move:

“I think this is a principled call by leadership and it has the support of the con­ference,” said Republican Congressman Tom Cole.

According to the report polls indicate that voters overwhelmingly disapprove of using the threat of a shutdown to defund the health-care law and that blame for a shutdown will fall squarely on Republicans.

Despite this government shut down seems set to go ahead. The US Senate will meet again at 9.30 am on Tuesday morning (13.30 GMT) when Democrats are expected to formally reject the House of Representatives latest offer for funding the government.

Image Source: The White House