Democrats reject 'piecemeal' GOP offer on government shutdown
The White House rejected a Republican plan to reopen portions of the government Tuesday as the first shutdown in 17 years closed landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and threw hundreds of thousands of federal employees out of work.
The back-and-forth offered no sign that President Barack Obama and Republicans can soon end a standoff over health care that has sidelined everything from trade negotiations to medical research and raised new concerns about Congress' ability to perform its most basic duties.
The Republican plan would restore funding for national parks, veterans services and the District of Columbia. Other government services would remain unfunded.
While the selective funding approach appeared to unite conservative and moderate Republicans for now, the White House said Obama would veto it. Democrats who control the Senate said they would reject it before it reached Obama's desk.
Republicans who control the House of Representatives said Obama could not complain about the impact of the shutdown while refusing to negotiate.
"The White House position is unsustainably hypocritical," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said a "piecemeal approach to funding the government is not a serious approach."
An even bigger battle looms in coming weeks, when Congress must raise the debt limit or risk a default that could roil global markets.
"This is a mess. A royal screwup," said Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York.
Obama accused Republicans of taking the government hostage in order to sabotage his signature health care law.
"They've shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.
Spending authority for much of the government expired at midnight Monday, but that did not prevent the Obama administration from opening on Tuesday the health-insurance exchanges that form the centerpiece of the law.
The Senate returned to business at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and promptly killed the House Republicans' previous proposal — a midnight call for a conference committee of representatives and senators to negotiate their way out of the shutdown. The chamber rejected the idea on a party-line 54-46 vote, putting the ball back in the House's court.
Boehner accused Senate Democrats of prolonging the shutdown, saying they had "slammed the door on reopening the federal government by refusing to talk."
He added, "We hope that Senate Democrats — and President Obama — change course and start working with us on behalf of the American people."
House Republican conferees appointed to the nonexistent conference committee held a news event with a conference table and empty chairs to symbolize the absence of Senate Democrats.
"Clearly the Senate has demonstrated that it is not willing to engage in the legislative process, and that is why I think the House and the speaker took the position of appointing conferees, so that we can actually get down to business and talk through our differences," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
Tea party conservatives, who have championed the House's efforts to repeal Obama's health care law, expressed unease with the idea of a conference committee.
"Part of the reason we're against Obamacare in the first place was there were a lot of closed-door meetings instead of business being conducted in the light of day," said Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, who said she fears that a House-Senate conference wouldn't be transparent. "I've heard that conference meetings would be open to the public. But I've heard that prior to having the meetings there are a lot of back-door deals."