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WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress plunged the nation into a partial government shutdown Tuesday as a protracted dispute over President Barack Obama’s signature health care law reached a boiling point, forcing some 800,000 federal workers off the job. Obama readied a midday statement to the nation as Democrats and Republicans maintained their blame-each-other duel on Capitol Hill.
Even as Obama prepared to meet with citizens signing up for his health care program and then make a lunch-hour speech in the Rose Garden, the White House cut back to a skeletal staff. The U.S. Capitol canceled tours not personally led by Congress members. “Closed” signs and barricades sprang up at the Lincoln Memorial, and national parks and federal workplaces across the country were following suit.
With the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate stalemated, it was unclear how long the shutdown — and the loss of some government programs and services — could last. The Senate early Tuesday rejected the House’s call to form a negotiating committee to resolve the deadlock.
Moments after the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., laid full blame on House Republicans, declaring, “The government is closed because of the irrationality of what’s going on on the other side of the Capitol.” Obama communications director Jennifer Palmieri told MSNBC that the White House was open to changes in the health care law in future negotiations, but not as part of passing a budget bill.
She compared that to negotiating with “a gun pointed to your head.”
The health care law itself was unaffected as enrollment opened Tuesday for millions of people shopping for medical insurance.
It was the first shutdown since a budget battle between Republicans in Congress and Democratic President Bill Clinton in the winter of 1995-1996.
Lab employees reported to work Tuesday.