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Rebecca Farley

Director, Policy & Advocacy, National Council for Behavioral Health

On Day 3, Path to End Government Shutdown Remains Unclear

October 3, 2013 | Federal Budget | Comments
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Shutdown Stalemate stretches on for third day

As the federal government shutdown stretches into its third day, it remained unclear how legislators would be able to end their stalemate over the 2014 budget and the Affordable Care Act. Amidst furloughs of over 800,000 federal workers, closures of national parks and monuments, and sharply reduced government services for all but the most essential functions and programs, lawmakers appeared to make little progress in resolving their substantial differences.

The shutdown occurred at midnight October 1, as Congress failed to enact a continuing resolution that would have temporarily continued funding the federal government into the new fiscal year. For days, the continuing resolution (or CR) had ping-ponged between the House and Senate in a flurry of competing votes. The Senate Democratic leadership pushed for a “clean” CR, while House Republicans sought to add various “policy riders” that would delay or undermine the Affordable Care Act. When the chambers could not agree on a resolution by midnight, all but the most essential government operations halted.

Major differences remain

Since the start of the shutdown, little progress has been made in resolving the deep-seated differences between the House and Senate. The majority of the House Republican caucus remains entrenched in its opposition to any funding bill that does not take a direct hit at the healthcare law. Yet, at least 20 moderate Republicans have publicly stated their support for passing a clean CR. With House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pledging the support of the Democratic caucus, this makes a majority of House members in favor of the clean CR. However, if Speaker John Boehner goes against the wishes of the majority of his caucus in bringing a clean CR to a vote, he could risk severe political consequences within his party. Boehner instead has taken a piecemeal approach, bringing forward a series of resolutions that temporarily fund individual functions of the government (such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Park Service). Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama have insisted that they will not accept a piecemeal approach to funding the government and have called on the House to approve a clean CR before embarking on negotiations over long-term spending issues.

Further complicating the issue is the imminent approach of the debt ceiling deadline. The U.S. Treasury has announced that without an increase in the statutory debt limit, the U.S. will no longer be able to meet its financial obligations beginning October 17. Should Congress fail to lift the debt ceiling, the Treasury warned, the ensuing default would be catastrophic: “credit markets could freeze, the value of the dollar could plummet, U.S. interest rates could skyrocket, the negative spillovers could reverberate around the world, and there might be a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse.”