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US braces for possible govt shutdown at midnight


A partial shutdown of the US government was set to begin at midnight Monday, with Republicans tying a new spending bill to a delay in Barack Obama's health care overhaul and Democrats unwilling to backtrack on the president's signature reform.


Washington inched its way toward a government shutdown on Monday as it neared a midnight deadline with rivalling lawmakers entrenched in bitter bickering and blaming each other for the impasse related to Obama’s signature health care reform.

The US Senate is scheduled to meet Monday just hours before the deadline, and Majority Leader Harry Reid has already promised that Democrats will kill a Republican-run House of Representatives proposal to delay by a year key parts of Obama’s law.


The Republican plan also would repeal a tax on medical devices as part of an emergency spending bill that would allow the government to keep its payment obligations.

In the event lawmakers blow the Monday deadline, about 800,000 federal workers would be forced off the job without pay on October 1. Some critical services such as patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue.

Republicans and Democrats have avoided looming shutdowns in previous years by reaching last-minute deals but in a sign that a compromise was still far away, the House unanimously approved a bill early on Sunday to keep paying US soldiers in the event the government runs out of money.

"By this time tomorrow the US government will have a partial shutdown on its hands unless there are last-minute, dramatic developments in Congress, and it does not look like it at this time," said FRANCE 24's Phillip Crowther from Washington.

Retirement benefits would be sent and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.

If the shutdown goes into effect, the National Institutes of Health would not be allowed to begin new clinical trials or see new patients, national museums and parks would close, and the US space agency’s 18,000 employees would stay home without pay, among other consequences.

Many provisions of the healthcare overhaul, dubbed “Obamacare”, such as allowing children to remain under their parents’ health insurance plan until age 26, have already been in effect for years.

Exchanges where people can shop for health care coverage from private insurers, perhaps the most politically-divisive provision of the reform, are set to open on Tuesday.

During the previous two shutdowns, for six days in November 1995 and 21 days from December that year into early 1996, some 800,000 federal employees were ordered to stay home, AFP reported.

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