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Inside Story

Can the US get its house in order?

We examine what is behind the political standoff in Washington that led to a partial shutdown.

Last Modified: 02 Oct 2013 13:03
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Government departments in the US are shutting down after the two houses of Congress failed to agree on a budget. Only workers deemed to be essential will be at their desks.

At some point someone is going to blink; we just don't know when and we don't know how .... It takes 218 votes to pass something and at the moment there are probably 20 to 30 hold-outs among the House Republicans [who] would not vote for anything.

Soren Dayton, a Republican strategist

Hundreds of thousands of others are being told to stay at home without pay because politicians are divided over President Barack Obama's healthcare reforms.

The Republican-led House of Representatives wants the new law delayed or dismantled and they have made it a condition of passing the new budget.

Meanwhile, Obama's allies in the Democratic-led Senate have repeatedly countered their endeavours.

"The House once again has attached ridiculous policy riders that are dead on arrival over here," Senate Majority leader Harry Reid said. "I've heard this story before, in fact just six hours ago. Republicans once again threaten to shut down the government unless Democrats repeal Obamacare for a year. Once again we will not relitigate the healthcare debate or negotiate, at the point of a gun."

So, as the clock ticked towards the midnight hour, and the end of the fiscal year, with the money effectively running out, the government staggered into a partial shutdown. It is the 17th time there has been a partial shutdown of the government - the last time was in 1995 under President Bill Clinton.

More than 800,000 federal employees, about a third of the government workforce, are facing unpaid leave this time around with no guarantee of back pay.

National parks and museums will also be closed, and agencies like NASA and the Environmental Agency will be all but shuttered.

Meanwhile, those classified as essential government employees, such as air traffic controllers and border patrol agents will continue working, along with staff tied to national security and nuclear power and weapons. Also all military personnel on active duty will remain at their posts.

One of the biggest problems that we have been having in our narratives and discussions of this, is to pretend that this is gridlock. This is not gridlock, this is not a lack of bipartisanship, this is borderline anarchy on the part of the Republicans and it is causing the United States and the rest of the world to suffer economically.

Jason Johnson, political science professor at Hiran College, Ohio

President Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act is the centrepiece of his second term agenda.

So what does it involve?

At the moment, some 47 million Americans do not have any healthcare insurance. Under the new law, all Americans are guaranteed access to healthcare coverage regardless of how old they are or whether they have pre-existing medical conditions.

Lower income families will be offered subsidies to help with this and all citizens will be able to buy insurance from online exchanges, where they can compare the different options available and see if they qualify for financial help.

Some parts of the new law came into effect on Tuesday and come next year, those without medical insurance will face a fine.

The irony of this is that shutting down the government will not stop what is known as 'Obamacare' - it is going ahead and people are signing up.

To compound the problems of the administration, there is another issue looming on the horizon.

The government risks running out of money to pay its bills later this month, unless Congress raises the federal borrowing cap. This is a legal limit on how much debt the government can pile up.

If Congress cannot agree on raising the cap, some estimates suggest the government will have to cut spending by up to 32 percent. It could also miss interest payments on US Treasury securities - bonds held by banks, governments and individuals worldwide. Failing to pay up could result in a first-ever default by a US government.

So, what is behind the political standoff in the US, and who will be affected by it?

Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, unpacks the issues with guests: Soren Dayton, Republican strategist and adviser; Gary Wasserman, a professor of American government at Georgetown University; Jason Johnson, a professor of political science at Hiran College in Ohio, who has worked as campaign manager for both the Republicans and the Democrats in the House and Senate races.

"The real problem is that the moderate candidates they have selected as presidential candidates in the past, Romney, McCain can't run on this kind of platform and essentially the congressional party is making it very, very difficult for a national party to resurrect itself out of these ashes."

Gary Wasserman, a professor of American government, Georgetown University

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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