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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Health Care Signup Begins Amid Government Shutdown

A sign is posted on a barricade in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

A sign is posted on a barricade in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. (Carolyn Kaster/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.

The partial government shutdown will have no immediate effect on the insurance marketplaces because they operate with money that’s not subjected to the annual federal budget.





From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Meghna Chakrabarti, in for Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. Coming up, there doesn't seem to be a thaw on the horizon between Democrats and Republicans in Washington. We'll talk with NPR's Steve Inskeep about the mood inside the White House.

YOUNG: But first, as you've no doubt heard, federal offices, national parks remain closed on day one of this government shutdown with Congress gridlocked in a battle over funding the Affordable Care Act. This morning for the first time in - third time, rather, in 24 hours, House Republicans asked for a committee to be formed to resolve differences. The Senate, in a vote, said no.

But as the government shut down, the law's health care exchange opened for people to sign up for health insurance. It wasn't smooth sailing. There are long wait times being reported at call centers. Maryland and Minnesota had to delay their start time for several hours. Colorado's apparently won't be fully operational for a month. Let's bring in Rick Klein, ABC News political director.

And first, Rick, to the request from Republicans in the House today to have some sort of committee be formed to resolve these differences and the Senate voting no. Why would the Senate vote no?

RICK KLEIN: Because it was a ploy, and Senate Democrats are trying to call them out on it, as so much of this has been, the ping-pong of different legislation back and forth. The House ran out of options overnight, and that's why they went back to this conference committee.

The Senate's actually been asking for a conference committee for the whole budget, not just for a couple of months to buy time but to say, look, let's talk about all these issues. House Republicans have been the ones refusing to do that. So this is latest piece of the impasse, so they can't even agree on when and where to negotiate.

YOUNG: In other words, the Senate saying it's too late, and we don't believe, and there's no reasonf for them to believe that Republicans would ever, in the House, would ever drop the main request that some part of Obamacare be dismantled.

KLEIN: That's right, and we knew that we were at this loggerheads, and someone's going to have to give, and Senate Democrats very happy about the position they're in from a negotiating standpoint, even though we're now several hours into the government shutdown.

YOUNG: Well, you just said government shutdown. There's also a language dispute as to what to even call it.

KLEIN: That's right, and we've seen several Republican congressmen and women say it's not a government shutdown, it's a government showdown, or it's a temporary cessation in government operations, all kinds of euphemisms around this because the idea of a government shutdown of course has connotations that are politically polarizing.

And in fairness, it is not a shutdown of the government. It is a partial shutdown. There are some 800,000 federal workers who are furloughed and are not attending work today, a larger number who aren't being paid, at least in the immediate term. There are many government services that aren't happening, but there are plenty of essential government services: law enforcement services, air traffic controllers.

The basics - even members of Congress going to work, those things are still happening.

YOUNG: Well, you know, there's - it's hard to see the effects initially because as everyone has pointed out, a lot is still running. But we're hearing that down the road when the government really starts running out of spending money, which is what this is all about, as opposed to debt, money that's already been spent, which is the next big battle, when the spending money runs out, that's when it really hurts.

What are you hearing as to how long this might last?

KLEIN: I think it went from a feeling of this will only last hours to now days, maybe even longer. I talked to one Republican, a congressman who says, you know, Thursday range is the earliest that he could see it ending just because people on both sides need to feel the impact.

This is not being fought inside the halls of Congress anymore. It is being fought in the outside game. The way that this government shutdown, partial shutdown is being felt and then reflected back on lawmakers, the only thing that can change the politics around this. There's nothing inside the building that can happen anymore.

So as people feel this, as people react to this, probably rightfully with some degree of anger, who they blame for it and how members of Congress on both sides decide to internalize that and to take the lessons forward, that will be what resolves this ultimately.

YOUNG: Well, and there's some new polling this morning from Quinnipiac. What does it show?

KLEIN: It shows that Democrats may be deriving an electoral advantage from this. People much more likely to blame Republicans, and they're showing an edge for Democrats in the so-called generic ballot, the generic Democrat versus a generic Republican in 2014. Now there are lots of folks on both sides that are saying they're not thinking about politics; don't believe it. They are thinking about politics. That's really the main thing that they're thinking about at this stage.

And they're thinking about the implications, and you have more and more Republicans growing concerned that if they misplay this, if they overplay the hand in terms of trying to stop Obamacare as part of this process and having the effect of shutting down the government, that they run a lot of risk of being seen by voters as out of touch with the urgent needs of the American people.

YOUNG: And by the way, you use the phrase Obamacare. We've heard from some listeners saying that's a pejorative, why are you using that, but even President Obama himself is embracing that term for the Affordable Care Act. And by the way, that polling, 72 percent oppose Congress shutting down the government to block the Affordable Care Act. Fifty-five percent mainly blame Republicans for the current gridlock. Rick Klein, ABC News political director, thanks as always.

KLEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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