Battle over Obamacare may trigger US government shutdown

Republican attempts to derail planned healthcare reforms could provoke financial meltdown

The threat of a shutdown of the United States government, and thereafter a dangerous deadlock on raising the limit on America’s borrowings, known as the debt ceiling, grew ever larger today, as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a budget bill that would strip funding from the planned healthcare overhaul.

With a public approval rating of 11 per cent, the US Congress appeared to be digging an ever deeper hole for itself with risks not just for the country as a whole, but also for the Republican Party, which more than ever is at civil war with itself. Driven by Tea Party right-wingers, the budget bill has no chance of passage in the US Senate.

In purely political terms, the growing crisis offered an opening to Mr Obama to present the Republicans as the poison in the system in Washington. He left the fray yesterday and travelled to a buzzing Ford motor plant in Missouri to make a speech underlining his efforts to boost employment and the standing of the middle class.

The increasingly hardline face of the Republicans will only have been emphasised by a vote in the House on Thursday to cut spending on the food stamps programme, a crucial plank in America’s safety net for the poor, by $30bn over 10 years, a draconian step that would see 3.8 million Americans cut from the rolls next year.

A deal must be agreed on a federal budget by 1 October to avoid a shutdown that would see hundreds of thousands of government workers sent home, and have ripple effects on countless programmes. Yet yesterday the options for reaching a compromise appeared narrow, not least because of Republican attempts to hold the government hostage by crippling the so-called Obamacare reforms, hated by Tea Party conservatives and set to be rolled out on the same date.

The play can only worsen the paralysis because the Senate, which is under the control of Democrats led by Senator Harry Reid, will never countenance gutting Obamacare. “Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead. Dead. It’s a waste of time,” Mr Reid warned. Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, was despairing meanwhile. In 26 years in Congress, “I haven’t seen anything like it. I haven’t seen anything like it,” she told Politico.

Some Republicans also want to throw Obamacare under the bus in the negotiations on the debt ceiling. The US will run out of money to pay its bills in three weeks at the most. Eventually, that would mean not being able to cover its obligations on its international debt. When the US came to the brink of defaulting when the same debate raged in 2011, the world financial system shuddered and the US suffered a downgrade its credit rating from one agency.

That the Speaker John Boehner has capitulated to the demands of his Tea Party wing has been openly lamented by others in the party. Senator John McCain, for instance, has been blunt. “We will not repeal, or de-fund, Obamacare. We will not. And to think we can is not rational,” he told CNN. “Most of the people who are doing this are new and do not have the experience that we had when the American people, who don’t like government but don’t want it to be shut down, reacted in a very negative fashion towards Congress for doing so.”

Mr Obama said on Thursday he was ready to sit down with Republican leaders in Washington next week to seek solutions on both issues. But so far there is nothing to suggest his congressional foes will bend, however calamitous the likely consequences, among them the likelihood that voters will blame them for a shutdown, not Mr Obama. The President has publicly likened the Republican strategy to “extortion”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions