The US House of Representatives voted Saturday to tie a bill that would fund the federal government for part of the new fiscal year to a delay in implementing the Obama administration's health care overhaul, setting the stage for a US government shutdown at 12:01 AM Tuesday.
A government shutdown would be the first in seventeen years. It would entail furloughs for over 800,000 federal workers and the total or partial shutdown of most federal agencies, while having a minimal impact on the military and the intelligence/domestic security apparatus.
The House bill will be taken up Monday afternoon by the Democratic-controlled Senate, which is expected to strip out any restrictions on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) before sending it back to the House. At that point, the House is expected to reject the Senate version, setting the stage for a partial shutdown of federal government functions to begin after midnight.
The immediate crisis over extending funding for the federal government after the October 1 beginning of the new fiscal year could be a prelude to an even more consequential crisis over raising the debt limit to avoid a default by the US government when the current debt limit is reached on October 17. House Republicans are threatening to tie an increase in the debt limit to a delay in funding for the ACA.
There is a possibility that the Republican-controlled House might offer an extension of government funding for a few days to avert an immediate shutdown, while seeking concessions on the health care program from the White House and congressional Democrats.
Interviewed on "Fox News Sunday," Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican whip, said, "I think the House will get back together in enough time, send another provision not to shut the government down but to fund it, and it will have a few other options in there for the Senate to look at."
He held out the possibility of a deal in which House Republicans removed their provision for a one-year delay in implementing the ACA and Senate Democrats accepted Republican demands to lift a provision in the ACA imposing a tax on the makers of medical devices. Business interests, led by AdvaMed, a medical device trade organization, have been lobbying fiercely for a repeal of the tax. A section of congressional Democrats have joined Republicans in opposing the tax measure.
The impact of a government shutdown would be imposed overwhelmingly on the working population. Some 95 percent of employees at the Department of Education would be furloughed, as would 92 percent of workers at the Department of Energy, while all of the department's regulatory activity would come to a halt.
The Environmental Protection Agency would have enough people on the job only to "keep the lights on and respond in the event of a significant emergency," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Environmental regulation would likewise stop.
The Department of Health and Human Services would be at about half capacity, and the Centers for Disease Control said it would have "minimal support to protect the health and well-being of US citizens" and "significantly reduced capacity."