US government in historic shutdown over Obamacare

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Washington, Oct 1 (IANS) Americans Tuesday woke to a historic shutdown for the first time in 17 years as a midnight deadline passed without a budget deal between Republicans and Democrats on how to keep the government spending going.

Through the day the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Democratic-controlled Senate, divided over President Barack Obama's signature health law nicknamed Obamacare, played ping-pong with each other's versions of a spending bill.

As the midnight hour struck with no agreement in sight over the budget for the new fiscal year beginning Tuesday, the White House ordered federal government agencies to begin shutting down, furloughing thousands of workers and curtailing some services.

It wasn't clear how long the shutdown was likely to last, or how exactly it might end. The previous shutdown, sparked by a budget battle between Democratic President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress, lasted for 21 days in 1996.

Many of the close to 800,000 federal workers affected by the shutdown began arriving at their offices Tuesday amid uncertainty as national parks, monuments and museums, as well as most federal offices were set to close.

Tens of thousands of air-traffic controllers, prison guards and Border Patrol agents will be required to serve without pay.

And many congressional hearings - including one scheduled for Tuesday on last month's Washington Navy Yard shootings - will be postponed.

The move came after the Senate twice Monday tossed out House amendments to the spending bill, defunding Obamacare and sent it back to the House.

But a little more than an hour after the federal government began shutting down, House Republicans again voted to reaffirm Obamacare amendments and asked the Senate to convene a conference committee to work out their differences.

But even before it left the House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had rejected it as "game-playing", and said: "We will not negotiate with a gun to our head."

The Senate was set to reject it again formally later Tuesday.

Earlier, chiding House Republicans for trying to undermine Obamacare, President Obama said: "You don't get to extract a ransom for doing your job, for doing what you're supposed to be doing anyway, where just because there's a law there that you don't like."

A new CNN/ORC poll shows that Americans are not happy about the prospect of a shutdown, with 68 percent of Americans saying shutting down the government for even a few days is a bad idea, while 27 percent think it's a good idea.

Most Americans also blamed congressional Republicans for a shutdown, 69 percent saying they agreed with the statement that the party's elected officials were acting like "spoiled children".

Democrats, however, weren't far behind with 58 percent of respondents saying they too were acting like spoiled kids.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)