* After day of discord, no action in Senate until Monday
* Partisans take to airwaves to pin blame on other side
* Government shutdown starts midnight on Monday; troops
still to be paid
By David Lawder and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, Sept 29 With a deadline to avert a
federal government shutdown fast approaching, the U.S. Capitol
was eerily quiet on Sunday as Republicans and Democrats waited
for the other side to blink first and break the impasse over
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives early on
Sunday passed a measure that ties government funding to a
one-year delay of President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare
restructuring law. Senate Democrats have vowed to quash it.
If a stop-gap spending bill for the new fiscal year is not
passed before midnight on Monday, government agencies and
programs deemed non-essential will begin closing their doors for
the first time in 17 years.
In a sign that lawmakers increasingly view that as
inevitable, the House unanimously approved a bill to ensure that
U.S. soldiers would be paid no matter what happened.
The high-stakes chess match in Congress will resume on
Monday when the Democratic-controlled Senate reconvenes at 2
p.m. (1800 GMT). Senate Democrats will then attempt to strip two
Republican amendments from the spending bill: the one that
delays the 2010 healthcare law known as Obamacare and another to
repeal a medical device tax that would help pay for the program.
They would then send a bill with a simple extension of
government spending back to the House, putting the legislative
hot potato back in Republican House Speaker John Boehner's lap
as the shutdown looms.
"Tomorrow, the Senate will do exactly what we said we would
do and reject these measures," said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman
for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "At that point,
Republicans will be faced with the same choice they have always
faced: put the Senate's clean funding bill on the floor and let
it pass with bipartisan votes, or force a Republican government
The impasse prompted a sell-off on Asian markets on Monday,
with Japan's benchmark Nikkei shedding 1.7 percent and
Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index off 1.2 percent. U.S. stock
futures also fell.
DEBT LIMIT PRELUDE
The funding standoff is a harbinger of the next big
political battle: a far-more consequential bill to raise the
federal government's borrowing authority. Failure to raise the
$16.7 trillion debt ceiling by mid-October would force the
United States to default on some payment obligations - an event
that could cripple its economy and send shockwaves around the
And yet, neither side wants to be the one to cast the final
vote that would lead to a shutdown. Polls consistently show the
American public is tired of political showdowns and opposed to a
There were no signs from Congress or the White House of
last-minute negotiations to resolve the standoff. Instead,
Democrats and Republicans spent their energies trying to pin
blame on the other side for failing to avoid a calamity.
No lawmakers were seen in or around the Capitol during
daylight hours on Sunday until late afternoon when 16 House
Republican members held a news conference on the Senate steps to
call on Reid to pass the funding and "Obamacare" delay measure.
"I personally believe that Senator Reid and the president,
for political purposes, want to shut down the government. It's a
scorched earth policy," said Representative Tim Griffin, a
Republican from Arkansas.
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer shot back that the
Republican tactics were a "subterfuge" to avoid blame for a
shutdown. "So instead of continued game-playing, we urge Speaker
Boehner to reconvene the House, pass a clean CR (continuing
resolution) and move on," he said in a statement.
Boehner and Reid have taken a low profile as the deadline
draws closer, leaving on-camera appearances to deputies and
often speaking through their press staffs.
One of Boehner's deputies, Representative Kevin McCarthy,
said if the Senate stripped the funding bill of the "Obamacare"
provisions, House Republicans would simply return it with other
changes to the healthcare law.
"It will be additions that Senate Democrats said they can
support," McCarthy told "Fox News Sunday," without specifying
these "other options."
The repeal of the medical device tax did win some Democratic
support in the House early on Sunday.
Obama has threatened to veto any bill that delays his
The funding impasse is the culmination of more than three
years of failed conservative efforts to repeal "Obamacare," a
program aimed at extending health insurance to millions of those
Republicans argue that the healthcare law, key parts of
which are set to launch on Oct. 1, is a massive and unnecessary
government intrusion into medicine that will cause premiums to
skyrocket and damage the economy.
And if the battle over "Obamacare" pushes up to the
mid-October deadline to raise the debt ceiling, U.S. stocks may
suffer. When gridlock threatened a debt default in 2011, the Dow
Jones industrials fell about 2,100 points from July 21 to Aug.
9, with the market needing two more months to regain its
Under a government shutdown, more than a million federal
employees would be furloughed from their jobs, with the impact
depending on the duration of a shutdown.
The current timetable could leave Boehner with the most
difficult decision of his career: whether to approve a clean
continuing resolution the Senate will likely send it Monday
afternoon or allow the government to shut down for the first
time since late 1995.
In a government shutdown, spending for functions considered
essential, related to national security or public safety, would
continue along with benefit programs such as Medicare health
insurance and Social Security retirement benefits for seniors.
But civilian federal employees - from people who process
forms and handle regulatory matters to workers at national parks
and museums in Washington - would be temporarily out of work.
The last government shutdown ran from Dec. 16, 1995, to Jan.
6, 1996, and was the product of a budget battle between
Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republicans, led by
then-Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Republicans suffered a public backlash when voters
re-elected Clinton in a landslide the following November, a
lesson never forgotten by senior Republicans, including Boehner.