Looming government shutdown

Night falls over the U.S. Capitol Dome, as members of the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives deal with a budget showdown with the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, and a possible government shutdown in Washington, September 30, 2013. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters / October 1, 2013)

Lawmakers in Congress failed to settle on legislation Monday to end the latest budget showdown, forcing federal agencies to begin shutting down services for the first time in 17 years.

The Republican-led House and Democratic Senate majority, unable to bridge a political divide that has stymied agreement for the better part of three years, traded a series of votes on proposals that stood no chance in the other chamber, pressing the government to begin shutting down at midnight Monday.

While hope for a last-minute deal to extend Monday night's deadline faded, members of both parties sharpened their rhetoric in an attempt to saddle the other side with the blame if they failed.

Democrats blamed tea party Republicans in the House. The conservative bloc has insisted that any spending bill include language to defund or delay Obamacare.

"Republicans are still playing games," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said on the Senate floor. "They want to close government."

Republicans insisted they did not want to shut down the government but said their fight over the Affordable Care Act was worth having. They criticized President Barack Obama and Democrats in the Senate for choosing not to negotiate over any legislation that included provisions to undercut Obamacare.

"The American people are speaking loudly, and House Republicans are listening," said Rep. Pete Sessions, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Rules Committee. "That is why we voted again tonight to prevent a government shutdown and protect Americans from the president's disastrous health care law."

Shortly before midnight, the Office of Management and Budget told agencies to execute shutdown plans.

Economists say the closure would have a particularly harmful impact in Maryland, where the federal government employs about 10 percent of the civilian workforce and where contractors received $27 billion in taxpayer business in the 2012 fiscal year.

State officials estimate Maryland would lose $15 million in economic activity during each day of a shutdown. But a George Mason University economist predicted that the Washington region alone — including the capital's suburbs in Maryland — could lose $200 million per day.

Anirban Basu, chairman and chief executive of the Sage Policy Group, said a $200 million daily impact is a reasonable projection.

"The impact is in the core of the Maryland economy," he said.

But the impact would be mitigated if a shutdown lasted only a few hours or days, analysts say. Basu said the region weathered the closures of 1995 and 1996, which together lasted 28 days, without significant long-term impact.

"There will be some hardship," Basu said, "but it's hard to know when you start to have really significant, permanent effects."

Legislative maneuvering on Capitol Hill late Monday capped a day of intense debate in which the GOP-led House passed a series of proposals that were easily defeated by the Democratic majority in the Senate.

Republicans approved a proposal Monday to fund the government in exchangefor delaying Obamacare's "individual mandate" — the requirement that every American obtain health insurance.

The proposal also included what amounted to a pay cut for members of Congress and their aides — stripping them of the share of their health insurance premiums currently paid for by the government.

The House approved the measure, 228-201. But the Senate effortlessly tabled the proposal on a 54-46 vote, putting the political onus back on the House with only hours to go before midnight.

House leaders then prepared to pass the same measure with an additional offer: to appoint members to a conference committee that would resolve differences between House- and Senate-passed bills. The move was intended to show that GOP leaders were prepared to negotiate but Democrats balked, saying there wasn't enough time to do so.

"One faction of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government doesn't get to shut down the entire government just to re-fight the results of an election," Obama said from the White House earlier on Monday. "The American people sent us here to govern."