By Andrew Taylor
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers locked in a political stare-down Wednesday were buffeted by rising anger from across the nation about a partial government shutdown that ruined vacations, sapped businesses and closed military cemeteries as far away as France. Some on Capitol Hill ominously suggested the impasse might last for weeks, but a few Republicans seemed ready to blink.
Republican Rep. Peter King of New York accused tea party-backed lawmakers of trying to “hijack the party” and said he senses that a growing number of rank-and-file House Republicans, perhaps as many as 100, are tired of the shutdown that began Tuesday morning.
Congressional leaders were scheduled to meet Wednesday evening at the White House with President Barack Obama Wednesday to look for a way out.
But GOP leaders and tea party-backed members seemed determined to press on.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a tea party favorite, said there would be no solution until President Barack Obama and Democrats who control the Senate agree to discuss problems with the nation’s unfolding health care overhaul.
“The pigsty that is Washington, D.C., gets mud on a lot of people and the question is what are you going to do moving forward,” Chaffetz, R-Utah, said on CBS’ “This Morning.”
Financing for much of the U.S. government was halted after Republicans hitched a routine spending bill to their effort to kill or delay the health care law they call “Obamacare.” The president accuses them of holding the government hostage.
Republicans pivoted to a strategy of trying to reopen more popular parts of the government piecemeal, but were unable to immediately advance the idea in the House.
Meanwhile, another financial showdown even more critical to the economy was looming. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told Congress that unless lawmakers act in time, he will run out of money to pay the nation’s bills by Oct. 17. Congress must periodically raise the limit on government borrowing to keep U.S. funds flowing, a once-routine matter that has become locked in battles over the federal budget deficit.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking House Democrat, said Democrats would overwhelmingly accept a short-term spending measure to reopen the government and increase the nation’s debt limit while other political differences are worked out. “That would be a responsible way to go,” Hoyer told CNN.
Fed-up Americans took to Facebook and Twitter to call members of Congress “stupid” or “idiots.” Some blamed Republicans while others blasted Obama or Democrats “who spend our tax dollars like crack addicts.”
Bruce Swedal, a 46-year-old Denver real estate agent, tweeted to Congress members: “You should not be getting paid. In fact, you all should be fired!”
A Wisconsin man began flying his flag upside down and urged other Americans to do the same.
About 800,000 federal workers deemed nonessential were staying home again Wednesday in the first partial shutdown since the winter of 1995-96.
Across the nation, America roped off its most hallowed symbols: the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, the Statue of Liberty in New York, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, the Washington Monument.
Its natural wonders — the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Smoky Mountains and more — put up “Closed” signs and shooed campers away.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he was getting pleas from businesses that rely on tourists. “The restaurants, the hotels, the grocery stores, the gasoline stations, they’re all very devastated with the closing of the parks,” he said.
The far-flung effects reached France, where tourists were barred from the U.S. cemetery overlooking the D-Day beaches at Normandy. Twenty-four military cemeteries abroad have been closed.
While U.S. military personnel are getting paid during the shutdown, thousands of civilian Defense employees are being furloughed.
Even fall football is in jeopardy. The Defense Department said it wasn’t clear that service academies would be able to participate in sports, putting Saturday’s Army vs. Boston College and Air Force vs. Navy football games on hold, with a decision to be made Thursday.
The White House said Obama would have to truncate a long-planned trip to Asia, calling off the final two stops in Malaysia and the Philippines.
Even as many government agencies closed their doors, the health insurance exchanges that are at the core of Obama’s health care law were up and running, taking applications for coverage that would start Jan. 1.
“Shutting down our government doesn’t accomplish their stated goal,” Obama said of his Republican opponents at a Rose Garden event Tuesday hailing implementation of the law. He said the Affordable Care Act “is settled, and it is here to stay.”
GOP leaders faulted the Senate for killing a House request to open official negotiations on the temporary spending bill. Senate Democrats led by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada insist that Republicans give in and pass their simple, straightforward temporary funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, with no strings attached.
Republicans insisted that Democrats must agree to negotiate over the health care law as part of the funding deadlock.
House Speaker John Boehner said his party was working to “deal honestly with the problems we face.”
“We hope that Senate Democrats, and President Obama, change course and start working with us on behalf of the American people,” according to an op-ed attributed to Boehner in Wednesday’s USA Today.
Late Tuesday, House Republicans sought passage of legislation aimed at reopening small slices of the government. The bills covered the national parks, the Veterans Affairs Department and city services in Washington, D.C., such as garbage collection financed with local tax revenues.
The move presented Democrats with politically challenging votes but they rejected the idea, saying it was unfair to pick winners and losers as federal employees worked without a guarantee of getting paid and the effects of the partial shutdown rippled through the country and the economy.
Since the measures were brought before the House under expedited procedures requiring a two-thirds vote to pass, House Democrats scuttled them, despite an impassioned plea by Democratic D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who recalled that in the last shutdown 17 years ago she prevailed on House Speaker Newt Gingrich to win an exemption to keep the D.C. government running.
“This piecemeal approach will only prolong a shutdown,” said Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.
Congressional Republicans said there could be more votes Wednesday, perhaps to allow the National Institutes of Health to continue pediatric cancer research. The NIH’s famed hospital of last resort wasn’t admitting new patients to research trials because of the shutdown. Dr. Francis Collins, agency director, estimated that each week the shutdown lasts would force the facility to turn away about 200 patients, 30 of them children, who want to enroll in studies of experimental treatments. Patients already at the hospital are permitted to stay.
Republicans also said the House may vote anew on the three measures that failed Tuesday, this time under normal rules requiring a simple majority to pass.
Republicans hoped such votes would create pressure on Democrats to drop their insistence that they won’t negotiate over the spending bill or the upcoming debt limit.
There were suggestions from leaders in both parties that the shutdown could last for weeks and grow to encompass the measure to increase the debt limit. “This is now all together,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.
“It’s untenable not to negotiate,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said. “I’ve always believed it was the debt limit that would be the forcing action.”