Congress plunged the nation into a partial government shutdown Tuesday, forcing some 800,000 federal workers off the job as a protracted dispute over President Barack Obama's signature health care law reached the boiling point. Obama readied a midday statement to the nation while Democrats and Republicans at the Capitol blamed each other for the first shutdown in nearly two decades.
"Closed" signs and barricades sprang up early Tuesday at the Lincoln Memorial, and national parks and many federal workplaces across the country followed suit. Agencies like NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency were virtually shuttered.
But people classified as essential government employees — such as air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents and most food inspectors — will continue to work. So will members of the military and employees whose jobs are financed through fees, such as State Department workers who issue passports and visas.
With the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate stalemated, it was unclear how long the shutdown — and the loss of some government programs and services — could last. The Senate early Tuesday rejected the House's call to form a negotiating committee to resolve the deadlock.
Moments after the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., laid full blame on House Republicans, declaring, "The government is closed because of the irrationality of what's going on on the other side of the Capitol."
But Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said GOP lawmakers were listening to constituents who want to "stop the runaway train called the federal government." Their message, he said, is "Stay strong."
Obama communications director Jennifer Palmieri told MSNBC that the White House was open to changes in the health care law in future negotiations, but not as part of passing a budget bill. She compared that to negotiating with "a gun pointed to your head."