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US government shuts down as budget deadline passes


The United States federal government began its first partial shutdown in 17 years on Tuesday after rivalling Republican and Democrat lawmakers failed to reach a deal on a temporary budget bill.


The United States began a partial government shutdown early Tuesday for the first time in 17 years, forcing around 800,000 federal workers to take unpaid leave and many non-essential services, including national parks, to shut down.

FRANCE 24's Phillip Crowther in Washington, DC

After President Barack Obama's Democrats and rival Republicans failed to meet a midnight deadline to approve a stop-gap budget, the White House ordered federal agencies to initiate their shutdown procedures.

As it went into effect Tuesday, tourists were shut out of the iconic Statue of Liberty –a federally managed monument– in New York, as well as the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

The political impasse comes after the right-wing branch of the Republican Party repeatedly tied new government funding legislation to its attempt to de-fund, delay or dismantle Obama’s 2010 signature health care law.

As the clock struck midnight, Republicans in the House of Representatives were demanding that the Senate negotiate their demand for a one-year delay in making millions of people buy health insurance as part of the overhaul.

Republicans and conservatives have blasted the Democrat-controlled Senate for unwillingness to negotiate the delay in exchange for an approved budget. Democrats said it was impossible to backtrack on the reform and accused Republicans of hijacking the government.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats would not enter into formal negotiations on spending "with a gun to our head".

According to FRANCE 24 correspondent Phillip Crowther, the shutdown was evidence that the anti-tax Tea Party movement within the Republican camp was still a force to be reckoned with, despite impressions that its “influence was waning”.

However, the gridlock may come at a high political price for the Republican Party, which is likely to receive the majority of the blame for the uncommon and internationally embarrassing situation.

“In the long run this could very well divide the Republican Party, and this is something that the Republican Party really cannot have at the moment,” Crowther noted.

Services deemed essential, including military operations and retirement benefits for the elderly, will continue during the shutdown.

Economic consequences

A few hours into the shutdown, Republicans in the House appointed delegates, or conferees, to try to negotiate with the Senate later Tuesday on a spending plan to get the government up and running again.

What the shutdown means in practice:

But Democrats warned that tinkering with what Republicans have labelled “Obamacare” was out of the question. “If the House follows through with their current plan, the Senate will vote to table the House's conference gambit shortly after convening. And we will be back at square one,” an aide to Senator Reid said.

Obama, lamenting the first government shutdown since 1996, told US troops in a video that they deserved better from Congress, and promised to work to get the government reopened soon.

Prospects for a swift resolution were unclear and economists warned that the struggling US economic recovery could suffer if the shutdown drags on for more than just a few days.

Markets were surprisingly stable on Tuesday morning, with the US dollar bearing the brunt of the negative results from the shutdown. It fell to an 18-month low against the Swiss franc and an eight-month low against the euro.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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