US shutdown looms amid law row
Intractable stand-off after the passing of bill is linked to 'Obamacare' delay
The US government will face its first shutdown in nearly 20 years tonight unless the White House and Republicans can broker a last-minute deal to avert a closure that is predicted to cost the US economy up to $2bn (€1.48bn).
The prospect of a shutdown increased sharply over the weekend when Republicans in the House of Representatives agreed to fund the US government, but only if Democrats agreed to a one-year delay to US President Barack Obama's signature health-care reforms.
The Republican proposal was rejected by Mr Obama, who has repeatedly said he will not compromise over the main legislative achievement of his first term.
Leaders in the Democrat-controlled Senate promised to reject the Republican proposal when they meet later today. The Republican leadership in the House will then have only eight to 10 hours to decide how – or if – to avoid a shutdown.
A US government closure would hit non-essential services such as the National Parks network, and passport and driving-licence renewals.
Estimates say it could cost the US economy up to $2bn as about 800,000 federal government workers were put on temporary unpaid leave.
As the deadline approached, both sides accused the other of intransigence and recklessness.
The White House and Democrat Senate leaders accused a core of 50 anti-government 'Tea Party' Republicans of holding America to ransom to extract concessions.
"After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at square one," said Harry Reid, the Democrat leader in the Senate, promising to reject the Republican request, saying he would not be "extorted by Tea Party anarchists".
Mr Obama has said he would negotiate on spending priorities, but would not accept the linking of Republican demands for changes to 'Obamacare' to the passage of a new so-called "continuing resolution" to fund the government, the last of which expires at midnight tonight.
"No one gets to threaten the full faith and credit of the United States of America just to extract ideological concessions," the president said. "No one gets to hurt our economy and millions of innocent people just because there are a couple laws you don't like. It hasn't been done in the past, and we're not going to start doing it now."
The last US government shutdown, in 1995-96, came after a stand-off between the Democratic president Bill Clinton and the Republican speaker of the house Newt Gingrich. The Republicans were widely seen to have paid a heavy political price for forcing that shutdown.
The debate over whether to use government funding to extract concessions from the Democrats has divided the Republican Party, with the more moderate leadership cautioning Tea Party members against repeating the mistakes of 1995. (© Daily Telegraph, London)