At a about a quarter to midnight Monday, the director of the Office of Management and Budget sent out the directive and the first federal government shutdown in 17 years took effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday after House Republicans and Senate Democrats could not agree on a spending bill.
"Agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations," wrote Sylvia Burwell, OMB director. "We urge Congress to act quickly to pass a continuing resolution to provide a short-term bridge that ensures sufficient time to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year and to restore the operation of critical public services and programs that will be impacted by a lapse in appropriations."
At no point during the tumultuous night of ping–pong votes between the two bodies did either side seem set to compromise, with House Republicans refusing to vote on a clean funding proposal, as pushed for by President Barack Obama and Democrats. Instead, the House – fueled by the most conservative members – attached proposals to either defund Obama's health care law or a rider that would force members of Congressional and their staffs to forgo employer-paid subsidies from the federal government for purchasing insurance that all workers across the country are eligible for when the new law takes full effect.
Predictably, the Democrat-controlled Senate rebuffed every offer.
The one surprise of the night was when House Republicans scrambled to put together their half of a conference committee, designed to negotiate with Senate counterparts to reconcile their two budgets. But they completed their task well after the midnight deadline and were dismissed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even before they were done.
"Tonight, we have more proof that House Republicans have lost their minds," Reid said, taking the Senate floor for a final time at exactly midnight. "Republicans have once again threatened to shut down the government unless Democrats repeal Obamacare for a year. But once again Democrats will not re-litigate the health-care debate or negotiate at the point of a gun."
And while both bodies had originally passed budgets with wildly different spending levels, the issue of overall spending on Monday night was moot – they all agreed to continue funding the government at current levels. So it's unclear what exactly the conference committee would even negotiate on – health-care policy or revert back to the old spending fights.
In any case, Reid made it obvious that after months of being prevented from holding a conference committee by Senate conservatives, such as Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah – one of the key architects of the shutdown with his insistence funding for Obamacare to be cut – he was in no mood to do so now and help Republicans save face with the public.
"If [House] Speaker [John] Boehner prevents the Senate bill from coming to the floor before midnight, the responsibility for this Republican government shutdown will rest squarely on his shoulders, as all America knows," Reid said.
Boehner framed the policy differences as legitimate negotiating points to be made in the budget process and tried to pin blame on Reid and the Democrats.
"The House has made its position clear: Keep the government running and ensure basic fairness for all Americans under Obamacare," he said at the close of House action, around 1:30 a.m. "Unfortunately, Senate Democrats chose to shut down the government rather than discuss or even recognize Obamacare's failures. The best path forward right now is for both chambers to convene a formal conference committee where we can resolve our differences."
Recent polls have shown the public is willing to assign blame to both parties in Congress for a shutdown, which they are united in saying is a bad thing for the country. They are more split on Obama's role, with about half saying he's acting like a responsible adult and half saying he's acting the part of a spoiled child.