President Barack Obama has invited congressional leaders to the White House for a shutdown meeting Wednesday.
A bitterly divided Congress plunged the nation into a partial government shutdown Tuesday, as a deadlock over the president’s health care law stalled a temporary funding bill, forcing about 800,000 federal workers off the job and suspending all but non-essential government activities.
The shutdown, the first since the winter of 1995-96, closed national parks, museums along the Washington Mall and the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. Agencies like NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency have been all but shuttered. People classified as essential government employees – such as air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents and most food inspectors – remain on the job.
In a letter emailed to federal employees, the president said the shutdown was “completely preventable” and called on the House of Representatives to quickly pass a law to reopen the government and allow furloughed federal employees to go back to work. The health care law in question was unaffected, and enrollment opened Tuesday for millions of Americans shopping for medical insurance.
Democrats have rejected efforts to pull funding for the health care law and want a stand-alone, short-term spending bill to reopen the government. Some Republicans are seeking a one-year delay in the health care law's requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance.
Citing the shutdown as the main reason, Obama canceled two stops on his long-planned trip to Asia, which is part of the president’s broader focus on boosting U.S. economic ties with Asia.
Obama is scheduled to leave Saturday night for the trip, which was originally supposed to be a four-nation tour. White House officials says Obama will still travel to Indonesia and Brunei, but is calling off the final two stops in Malaysia and the Philippines.
The president twice canceled trips to Asia in 2010, once to stay in Washington for votes on his health care law, and once because of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
During the shutdown, the 532 members of Congress continue to be paid – at a cost of $10,583.85 per hour – while hundreds of congressional staffers have been sent home, packs of tourists are being turned away at the Capitol and constituent services in many offices grind to a halt.
House members and senators can't withhold their own pay even if they want to. Under the Constitution's 27th Amendment, lawmakers can only change the pay of those in a future Congress, not the one in which they serve.
Lawmakers aren't oblivious to how continuing to receive pay looks. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and others are pledging to donate their salaries to charity during the shutdown.
Republicans say the GOP-controlled House intends to pass legislation to reopen portions of the government, including national parks and processing of claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The House easily passed a measure Tuesday morning to allow the government of Washington, D.C. to use its own taxpayer funds to provide services like garbage pickup, as well as keep D.C. employees on the job.
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