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Deadlocked Congress shuts down government

WASHINGTON – The U.S. government started shutting down early today after a deeply divided Congress deadlocked over the budget and health care and let the federal fiscal year run out without any agreement over how to keep the money flowing. It was the first such collapse of the government in nearly two decades.

The partial closure will delay Social Security payments, passport and visa applications, shutter national parks and museums, and furlough hundreds of thousands of employees. Essential services will still be provided; the military remains on duty.

President Barack Obama declared the government had officially run out of money when the fiscal year expired at 12:01 a.m. EDT today.

“Congress has not fulfilled its responsibility,” Obama said in a video message sent to the U.S. military around the globe. “It has failed to pass a budget and, as a result, much of our government must now shut down until Congress funds it again.”

The White House Office of Management and Budget sent an alert to all executive branch government offices, telling them to start implementing shutdown plans.

The shutdown came after the Senate and the House of Representatives engaged in a high-stakes political showdown well into the night – sending bills back and forth across the Capitol – but never coming close to a deal. It was driven by House efforts to try to force a weakening of the new Affordable Care Act, all of which the Democrats rejected.

The Republican-controlled House voted 228-201 late Monday to fund the government for two months while delaying the new federal health care law’s mandate that Americans be required to have insurance and canceling health care subsidies for members of Congress. The Democratic-led Senate voted 54-46 to reject the proposal.

As the clock ticked toward deadline, the House readied a new tactic, looking to set up direct negotiations with the Senate by appointing a team of budget negotiators called “conferees” to work with Senate counterparts to hash out a compromise in the coming days. But the Senate flatly rejected that proposal without a temporary budget extension.

“We like to resolve issues,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “But we will not go to conference with a gun to our head.”

About 800,000 of the more than 2 million federal employees will stay home after the plans are implemented sometime today. But more than a million active-duty military will remain on the job and be paid, according to legislation passed by both chambers.

After the government reopens, lawmakers must decide whether employees – both those who worked and those who didn’t – should get paid following three years of frozen pay and increased workloads.

Some critical services would remain, but others would not.

Mail delivery would continue but loan programs to small businesses, farmers and homeowners would cease. Inspectors still would regulate food and drugs but research programs would be halted. Taxes would be collected but judges would have to go home when the courts run out of funds. Prisoners still would be held in federal custody but money for recovery efforts following Superstorm Sandy would be reduced. The health care law that is the focus of the dispute would continue to be implemented because much of its funding comes from other sources.