WASHINGTON (AP) — A threatened government shutdown only hours away, House Republicans scaled back their demands for delays in the nation’s health care overhaul Monday night as the price for essential federal funding. But President Barack Obama and Democrats rejected the proposals as quickly as they were made.
“We’re at the brink,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
On a long day and night in the Capitol, the Senate torpedoed one GOP attempt to tie government financing to changes in “Obamacare,” and House Republicans countered with a second despite unmistakable signs their unity was fraying.
The stock market dropped on fears that political gridlock between the White House and a tea party-heavy Republican Party would prevail, though analysts suggested significant damage to the national economy was unlikely unless a shutdown lasted more than a few days.
Still, a shutdown would send hundreds of thousands of workers home and inconvenience millions of people who rely on federal services or are drawn to the nation’s parks and other attractions. Some critical parts of the government — from the military to air traffic controllers — would remain open.
As lawmakers squabbled, President Barack Obama urged House Republicans to abandon demands he said were designed to “save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right of their party.” Speaking of the health care law that undergoes a major expansion on Tuesday, he said emphatically, “That funding is already in place. You can’t shut it down.”
House Speaker John Boehner responded a few hours later on the House floor. “The American people don’t want a shutdown and neither do I,” he said. Yet, he added, the new health care law “is having a devastating impact. ... Something has to be done.”
For all the Republican defiance, it appeared that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and fellow Democrats had the upper hand in the fast-approaching end game, and that Republicans might soon have to decide whether to allow the government to remain open — or come away empty-handed from a bruising struggle with Obama.