Government shutdown begins: What happens now?

A last-ditch effort is under way to form a House-Senate panel to negotiate new funding so shut-down government operations can resume. But Democrats in the Senate are likely to wait to see if GOP lawmakers will crack.

Jason Reed/Reuters
Early morning visitors to the Lincoln Memorial are pictured before sunrise in Washington, Oct. 1, 2013. The US government began a partial shutdown on Tuesday for the first time in 17 years, potentially putting up to 1 million workers on unpaid leave.

The US government shut down at midnight as the GOP-controlled House continued to demand changes in "Obamacare" as the price of funding federal activities and as the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected that linkage.

Google’s doodle on Tuesday may honor the 123rd anniversary of Yosemite National Park, but Yosemite and its fellow national parks are all closed. Don’t make plans to visit the Smithsonian, because its doors are locked, too. Ninety-seven percent of NASA’s employees are on furlough.

Social Security checks will still be delivered, the mail will go through, and the military will be paid. But the vast majority of Uncle Sam’s work will be curtailed as agencies from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Veterans Affairs end nonessential services because they don’t have the money to pay employees.

Bureacrageddon has come to pass. In political terms, what happens next?

First, the House’s last-ditch effort will almost certainly fail. Late on Monday House members voted along party lines to appoint negotiators to a House-Senate conference committee to hash out details of an agreement on a continuing resolution to fund the government. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada has said he will reject this, as he continues to maintain there is nothing to negotiate.

“From Democrats’ perspective, there is nothing left to discuss in conference,” writes Sarah Binder, a George Washington University professor of political science, on "The Monkey Cage" political blog Tuesday morning.

Second, Senator Reid and his fellow Democrats will wait to see if the GOP cracks. From their point of view, they have maintained unity against changes in Obamacare while Republicans have scaled back demands from defunding to delay. There are already fissures in the GOP stance in any case, as many Senate Republicans have deplored the march to a shutdown as unwinnable for their party.

Anything is possible in politics, but at this point it’s almost unthinkable that Reid and President Obama would step back from their maximalist insistence that they won’t accept any changes, delays, or even tweaks to the Affordable Care Act as the price of renewed government funding.

Third, both parties will look to see what House Speaker John Boehner does.

It’s widely assumed that a so-called clean continuing resolution – one with no Obamacare amendments attached – would pass the House if brought to a vote. Democrats would join with non-hard-line Republicans to provide the margin of victory.

To this point, Mr. Boehner hasn’t permitted such a clean bill to advance. He has bowed to the wishes of the conservative tea party wing of his party that he use all means possible to fight a health-reform law they see as a disaster for the country.

But these conservative members largely represent safe Republican districts, and the political pressure they are most worried about is from their right. Like Reid and Mr. Obama, they are unlikely to back down. Conservative activists are pushing them to continue the fight.

“The GOP only has something if it now stands its ground and demands defunding Obamacare. They must be in this to win this,” writes right-leaning pundit Erick Erickson on "RedState."

It’s possible that the shutdown will be a period that clears the air in Washington, showing the limits of each side’s power and sating desire for confrontation. That might make it easier to handle the next crisis in line: the question of whether to raise the national debt ceiling later in the month.

But for the moment, “the chief question is how long each party can sustain a shutdown before folding,” write Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan, and Burgess Everett in Politico's shutdown lead story.

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