WASHINGTON —The U.S. government shut down for the first time in 17 years early Tuesday, after a Congress bitterly divided over President Obama's signature health care initiative failed to reach agreement to fund federal agencies into the new fiscal year.
In a memo issued by the White House shortly before the midnight deadline, the Office of Management and Budget instructed that federal agencies "should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations."
The impasse means 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed Tuesday. National parks, museums and most federal offices will close, while tens of thousands of air traffic controllers, prison guards and border patrol agents will be required to serve without pay.
Hours earlier, the Republican House voted 228-201 to pass its third proposal in two weeks to fund the government. Like the previous plans, it sought to undermine the Affordable Care Act, this time by delaying enforcement of the "individual mandate," a cornerstone of the law that requires all Americans to obtain health insurance.
The new measure also sought to strip lawmakers and their aides of long-standing government health benefits.
The Democratic Senate quickly rejected that plan on a party-line vote of 54- 46. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urged House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to abandon the assault on the health care law and pass a simple bill to keep the government open. Otherwise, Reid warned, "the responsibility for this Republican government shutdown will rest squarely on his shoulders."
Boehner refused to yield. He called instead for a special committee to meet in the coming days to resolve differences between the two parties, leaving the fate of millions of federal workers and the services they provide in limbo.
But Reid rejected the House's plan to appoint conferees for House-Senate negotiations on a new short-term spending plan.
"We're not going to go to conference with a gun to a head," Reid said. "Republicans are still playing games."
He added that Republicans are forcing a government shutdown "because they don't believe in government, and tomorrow will be a bad day for government and a day of celebration over in the House."
He insisted that the House must first pass a "clean" six-week continuing resolution without any language to curtail or defund the new health care law.
President Barack Obama did embrace one GOP measure Monday night, signing legislation that would ensure that members of the armed forces would continue to get paid during any shutdown. The House had passed the legislation over the weekend, and the Senate approved it Monday.
But Obama warned that the broader economy, which is finally starting to recover from the shocks of the past six years, would take an unnecessary hit if congressional gridlock shuttered "America's largest employer."
"Keeping the people's government open is not a concession to me. Keeping vital services running and hundreds of thousands of Americans on the job is not something you 'give' to the other side. It's our basic responsibility," Obama said in a statement at the White House.
On Monday evening, Obama telephoned Boehner to urge him to reconsider his stance on the health care law. In a call that lasted nearly 10 minutes, according to Boehner's office, the president reiterated his insistence that there would be no negotiations over the debt limit, and that Congress must pay the bills it has incurred.
Boehner responded by mocking Obama in a speech on the House floor.
" 'I'm not going to negotiate,' " he said, quoting Obama. "I would say to the president: This is not about me. It's not about Republicans here in Congress. It's about fairness."
The speech drew applause for the embattled speaker, who argued passionately that Republicans were merely seeking "fairness" for working people. Obama has delayed a mandate for employers to insure workers and delayed other requirements for big unions, Boehner said. "Yet they stick our constituents with a bill they don't like and a bill they can't afford," he said.
On both sides of the Capitol, Republicans were deeply divided about the course Boehner and his leadership team chose. In the House, a group of more moderate Republicans was seething about the decision to bow to the forces — led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and his allies — who oppose the Affordable Care Act.
Some publicly urged Boehner to abandon the assault on the health care law and seek House Democrats' help to pass the simple six-week government-funding bill that the Senate approved last week.
"I don't want to shut down the government," said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, W.Va., who is trying to become her state's first GOP senator since the 1950s.
Frustrations also were simmering among Senate Republicans, who complained that House leaders were pressing the attack in direct opposition to public opinion. Polls show that voters overwhelmingly disapprove of using the threat of a shutdown to defund the health care law and that blame for a shutdown would fall squarely on Republicans' shoulders.
"By wanting to repeal Obamacare using this method, it defies what the popular will is," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee.
The House and Senate have agreed to fix spending for a wide swath of federal programs at an annual level of $986 billion for the budget year that began Tuesday, the same as for the 12 months just ending.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Tale of two bills
A comparison of rival House and Senate bills aimed at preventing a partial government shutdown Tuesday:
• Funds federal agencies through Dec. 15 at current spending levels. The rate equates to annual agency spending of $986 billion, and includes the impact of this year's sequestration, or automatic spending cuts.
• Delays for a year the requirement that individuals and businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees buy insurance under President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law.
(Dropped from the bill were earlier provisions repealing a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices like pacemakers and scanning machines, and letting some employers with religious or moral objections decline to provide contraception coverage.)
• Funds federal agencies through Nov. 15 at the same level as the House bill.
• Makes no changes in 2010 health care law.
The Associated Press