WASHINGTON – First slowed, then stalled by political gridlock, the vast machinery of government clanged into partial shutdown mode Tuesday, and President Obama warned that the longer it goes “the more families will be hurt.”
Republicans said it was his fault, not theirs, and embarked on a strategy – opposed by Democrats – of voting on bills to reopen individual agencies or programs.
Ominously, there were suggestions from leaders in both parties that the shutdown, heading for its second day, could last for weeks and grow to encompass a possible default by the Treasury if Congress fails to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. The two issues are “now all together,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Speaking at the White House, the president accused Republicans of causing the first partial closure in 17 years as part of a nonstop “ideological crusade” to wipe out his signature health care law.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, gave as good as he got. “The president isn’t telling the whole story,” he said in an opinion article posted on the USA Today website. “The fact is that Washington Democrats have slammed the door on reopening the government by refusing to engage in bipartisan talks.”
Officials said roughly 800,000 federal employees would be affected by the shutdown after a half-day on the job Tuesday to fill out time cards, put new messages on their voice mail and similar chores.
Late Tuesday, House Republicans sought swift passage of legislation aimed at reopening small slices of the federal establishment. The bills covered the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Park Service and a portion of the Washington, D.C., government funded with local tax revenue.
Democrats generally opposed all three, saying Republicans shouldn’t be permitted to choose which agencies remain open and which stay shut. As a result, all fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.
In a moving moment at the shuttered World War II Memorial on the National Mall, a group of veterans from Mississippi removed the barricades as National Park Police apparently looked the other way.
Part of an honor flight program, they had chartered an $80,000 airplane, and their plans were too far advanced to postpone when the government shut down, said Wayne Lennep, spokesman for the Mississippi Gulf Coast honor flights.
“It’s the best civil disobedience we’ve seen in Washington for a long time,” Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., told the veterans.
– The Washington Post contributed to this report.