President Obama declared defiantly Tuesday that his signature health-care law is “here to stay” and urged Republicans to abandon what he called a right-wing “ideological crusade” to derail it, saying they have the ability to “reopen the government” following a shutdownthat took effect at midnight.
Appearing in the White House Rose Garden to tout the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, which began enrolling millions of Americans in new health-insurance plans starting Tuesday, Obama harshly accused the tea party wing of the House GOP of trying to “hold the entire economy hostage” and demanding “ransom” in return for approving a short-term budget. He vowed that he would not “give in to reckless demands” to dismantle the health-care law.
As he spoke, the first government shutdown in 17 years began to take hold. Thousands of government workers cleared out of federal office buildings, Washington museums and memorials closed, and government Web sites — including features such as the National Zoo’s popular panda cam — shut down or reduced their functionality.
For their part, Republican lawmakers sought to blame Obama and Senate Democrats for the shutdown, using a series of floor speeches and interviews to make their case.
House GOP leaders, meanwhile, began pushing a new approach Tuesday that would break up the federal spending bills into small pieces and move them separately over to the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) quickly rejected the idea.
“This Republican shutdown did not have to happen,” Obama said in the Rose Garden, standing in front of a group of Americans eligible to sign up for new health-insurance plans. He said it was “strange” that a political party “would make keeping people uninsured the centerpiece of their agenda.” He also underscored what he said was the “irony” that the shutdown will not affect the health-care law, widely known as Obamacare, because its funding sources are already in place.
Among those most affected, Obama noted, were furloughed government workers, who arrived at federal office buildings Tuesday morning to clean off their desks, set out-of-office e-mail messages and make whatever arrangements were necessary to stay off the job indefinitely. Others, including Border Patrol officers, prison guards and air traffic controllers, were required to work but were told their pay may be delayed.
Air travel continued without interruption Tuesday as more than 14,000 air traffic controllers were ordered to remain on the job. But their union warned that the furlough of 3,000 support personnel would have long term implications for aviation if the shutdown persists.
Washington’s iconic memorials were shuttered, along with Smithsonian museums and national parks across the country. By midmorning, some frustrated federal workers were already waiting for Metro trains to take them back home. With no way of knowing whether they would be shut out of work for a few days or several weeks, some of the workers carried potted plants from their offices with them. Washington Post reports.