CLOSE to 800,000 federal workers in the United States (U.S.), the world’s largest economy, were sent home Tuesday.
This was because the country’s lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement on a national common denominator: the budget. Implication? The workers are being put on unpaid leave.
The disagreement in the U.S. Congress over budget is coming for the first time in 17 years. Democrats and Republicans failed to agree a budget after a bitter row over President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, also known as ObamaCare.
National parks, museums, federal buildings and services are being closed down.
In a sharply divided U.S. Congress, the Democrat-led Senate and Republican-led House of Representatives failed to find a common ground on a budget deal as a flurry of last-minute proposals passed between the two branches of America’s government failed to avert the shutdown.
Further implications are to the effect that tens of thousands of air-traffic controllers, prison guards and border patrol agents will have to serve without being paid.
Just hours before the government fiscal year ended at midnight on October 30, House Republicans proposed a third temporary budget deal in two weeks tied to a delay to the rolling out of the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s healthcare law that gives health insurance cover to millions of Americans.
Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said he would not open talks with House leaders ahead of the shutdown “with a gun to our heads” and demanded that the House first pass a six-week budget.
The House declined this, seeking instead to reach an agreement through negotiations directly with the Senate and triggering a shutdown as a midnight deadline passed.
After the Senate voted down the House bill, Reid blamed Republicans for the suspension of non-essential of government services.
He said: “It will be a Republican government shutdown, pure and simple.”
This is the first government shutdown since Bill Clinton was president in 1996 when federal services were suspended for a record 21 days.
Obama has previously battled with House Republicans on budgetary matters, in 2011 and again over the New Year, but each time managed to avoid a government shutdown.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, the most senior ranking Republican in the chamber, said he wanted the Senate to agree to a conference to negotiate a deal on a short-term budget.
The strategic institutions affected by the shut down include the Department of Defence where, however, military personnel on duty will not be affected, meaning that America’s 1.4 million active-duty uniformed military personnel will stay on duty.
Here, about half of the defence department’s 800,000 civilian employees will have to stop work, but there is a blanket exception for activities that “provide for the national security.”
Defence Department Comptroller Robert Hale has since also clarified that “military and other civilians directed to work would be paid retroactively once the lapse of appropriation ends.”
Obama later told civilian employees that they deserved “better than the dysfunction we’re seeing in Congress.”