US PRESIDENT Barack Obama took the biggest political gamble of his second term last night, refusing to cave in to Republican threats to shut down the US government unless he rolled back his signature health care reforms.
At 11.59pm Washington time, those threats were due to become reality if Democrats and Republicans could not agree a last-minute deal to prevent some 700,000 federal workers being placed on unpaid leave at the start of an intense game of political brinkmanship.
The likelihood that Americans would wake up this morning to the first government shutdown for 17 years rose sharply yesterday evening when the Democrat-controlled Senate rejected the latest offer by Republicans in the House of Representatives.
They refused a deal that would have continued to fund the US government in return for the repeal of a tax on medical equipment and a delay to a system of fines for better-off Americans who refuse to take out health insurance cover.
The president and his Democratic allies believe that the American people will blame Republicans for any shutdown.
Mr Obama spoke briefly yesterday, saying there was "a pretty straightforward solution to this" if Republicans would back away from their demands on his health care programme and focus on the budget.
"What it simply requires is everyone to act responsibly and do what's right for the American people," he said. At the heart of the latest political showdown is a dispute over the 2010 health law that Democrats cherish as a much-needed extension of health care coverage and Republicans condemn as a bureaucratic expansion of government.
Some of the law's signature elements – including regulated market "exchanges" where the uninsured can shop for health care plans – are due to come into force today.
He demanded that the Senate "listen to the American people" by delaying the law. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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