NEW YORK (AP) — From New York's Liberty Island to Alaska's Denali National Park, the U.S. government closed its doors as a bitter budget fight idled hundreds of thousands of federal workers and halted all but the most critical government services for the first time in nearly two decades.
A midnight deadline to avert a shutdown passed amid Congressional bickering, casting in doubt Americans' ability to get government services ranging from federally-backed home loans to supplemental food assistance for children and pregnant women.
For many employees of the federal government, Tuesday's shutdown meant no more paychecks as they were forced onto unpaid furloughs. For those still working, it meant delays in getting paid.
Park Ranger and father-to-be Darquez Smith said he already lives paycheck-to-paycheck while putting himself through college.
"I've got a lot on my plate right now — tuition, my daughter, bills," said Smith, 23, a ranger at Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Ohio. "I'm just confused and waiting just like everyone else."
The impact of the shutdown was mixed — immediate and far-reaching for some, annoying but minimal for others.
In Colorado, where flooding killed eight people earlier this month, emergency funds to help rebuild homes and businesses continued to flow — but federal worker furloughs were expected to slow it down.
National Guard soldiers rebuilding washed-out roads would apparently be paid on time — along with the rest of the country's active-duty personnel — under a bill passed hours before the shutdown. Existing Social Security and Medicare benefits, veterans' services and mail delivery were also unaffected.
Other agencies were harder hit — nearly 3,000 Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors were furloughed along with most of the National Transportation Safety Board's employees, including accident investigators who respond to air crashes, train collisions, pipeline explosions and other accidents.
Almost all of NASA shut down, except for Mission Control in Houston, and national parks closed along with the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo. Even the zoo's popular panda cam went dark, shut off for the first time since a cub was born there Aug. 23.
As the shutdown loomed Monday, visitors to popular parks made their frustration with elected officials clear.
"There is no good thing going to come out of it," said Chris Fahl, a tourist from Roanoke, Ind., visiting the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park in Hodgenville, Ky. "Taxpayers are just going to be more overburdened."
Emily Enfinger, visiting the Statue of Liberty, said politicians need to find a way to work together.
"They should be willing to compromise, both sides, and it discourages me that they don't seem to be able to do that," she said. "They're not doing their job as far as I'm concerned."
Joe Wentz, a retired federal employee from Lebanon, Va., visiting San Francisco with his wife, bought tickets to visit Alcatraz on Thursday — if it's open.
Wentz said he's frustrated that some politicians are using the budget to push changes in the Affordable Care Act.
"We've been disgusted a long time that they're not working together," he said.
The shutdown was strangely captivating to Marlena Knight, an Australian native visiting Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. She was confounded that the impasse focused on the nation's health care system — an indispensable service in her home country.
"We can't imagine not having a national health system," she said. "I just can't believe that this country can shut down over something like a national health system. Totally bizarre, as an Australian, but fascinating."
It turns out an institution as massive as the federal government takes some time to grind to a total halt: Many federal workers were being permitted to come in Tuesday to change voicemail messages or fill out time cards. But after that, they were under strict orders to do no work, even check their email.
With no telling how long the budget standoff will last, even programs not immediately affected could run out of cash.
Barbara Haxton, executive director of the Ohio Head Start Association, said its preschool learning programs would be in jeopardy if a shutdown lasted more than two weeks. March's automatic budget cuts meant nearly 3,000 children lost access to services and there could be dire consequences if the budget standoff drags on.
"It's not as though this is a throwaway service. These are the poorest of the poor children," Haxton said. "And our Congressman still gets his paycheck. His pay doesn't stop and his health insurance doesn't stop."
Associated Press reporters Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia, Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C., Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Ky., Terence Chea in San Francisco and Amanda Lee Myers in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — A conservative challenge to the president's health care law has the federal government teetering on the brink of a partial shutdown.
The Senate has the next move on must-do legislation required to keep the government open past midnight on Monday, and the Democratic-led chamber is expected to reject the latest effort from House Republicans to use a normally routine measure to attack President Barack Obama's signature health care law.
Congress was closed for the day on Sunday after a post-midnight vote in the GOP-run House to delay by a year key parts of the new health care law and repeal a tax on medical devices as the price for avoiding a shutdown. The Senate is slated to convene Monday afternoon just 10 hours before the shutdown deadline, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has already promised that majority Democrats will kill the House's latest volley.
A House GOP leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, said the House would again rebuff the Senate's efforts to advance the short-term funding bill as a simple, "clean" measure shorn of anti-heath care reform provisions.
Since the last government shutdown 17 years ago, temporary funding bills known as continuing resolutions have been noncontroversial, with neither party willing to chance a shutdown to achieve legislative goals it couldn't otherwise win. But with health insurance exchanges set to open Tuesday, tea party Republicans are willing to take the risk in their drive to kill the law, so-called "Obamacare."
"You're going to shut down the government if you can't prevent millions of Americans from getting affordable care," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
A leader of the tea party Republicans, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, insisted the blame rests with Senate Democrats.
"The House has twice now voted to keep the government open. And if we have a shutdown, it will only be because when the Senate comes back, Harry Reid says, 'I refuse even to talk,'" said Cruz, who led a 21-hour broadside against allowing the temporary funding bill to advance if stripped clean of a tea party-backed provision to derail Obamacare. The effort failed.
The battle started with a House vote to pass the short-term funding bill with a provision that would have eliminated the federal dollars needed to put Obama's health care overhaul into place. The Senate voted along party lines to strip that out and set the measure back to the House.
The latest House bill, passed early Sunday by a near party-line vote of 231-192, sent back to the Senate two major changes: a one-year delay of key provisions of the health insurance law and repeal of a new tax on medical devices that partially funds it. The steps still go too far for the White House and its Democratic allies.
Senate rules often make it difficult to move quickly, but the chamber can act on the House's latest proposals by simply calling them up and killing them.
Eyes were turning to the House for its next move. A senior leader vowed the House would not simply give in to Democrats' demands to pass the Senate's "clean" funding bill.
"The House will get back together in enough time, send another provision not to shut the government down, but to fund it, and it will have a few other options in there for the Senate to look at again," said McCarthy, the No. 3 House Republican leader.
He suggested that House Republicans would try blocking a mandate that individuals buy health insurance or face a tax penalty, saying there might be some Democratic support in the Senate for that.
On the other hand, Democrats said the GOP's bravado may fade as the deadline to avert a shutdown nears.
Asked whether he could vote for a "clean" temporary funding bill, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said he couldn't. But Labrador added, "I think there's enough people in the Republican Party who are willing to do that. And I think that's what you're going to see."
A leading Senate GOP moderate called on her fellow Republicans to back down.
"I disagree with the strategy of linking Obamacare with the continuing functioning of government — a strategy that cannot possibly work," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
McCarthy wouldn't say what changes Republicans might make. He appeared to suggest that a very short-term measure might pass at the last minute, but GOP aides said that was unlikely.
Republicans argued that Reid should have convened the Senate on Sunday.
Yet even some Republicans said privately they feared that Reid held the advantage in a fast-approaching end game.
Republicans argued that they had already made compromises; for instance, their latest measure would leave intact most parts of the health care law that have taken effect, including requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and to let families' plans cover children up to age 26. They also would allow insurers to deny contraception coverage based on religious or moral objections.
Tea party lawmakers in the House — egged on by Cruz — forced GOP leaders to abandon an earlier plan to deliver a "clean" stopgap spending bill to the Senate and move the fight to another must-do measure looming in mid-October: a bill to increase the government's borrowing cap to avert a market-rattling, first-ever default on U.S. obligations.
In the event lawmakers blow the Monday deadline, about 800,000 workers would be forced off the job without pay. Some critical services such as patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue. Social Security benefits would be sent, and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.
McCarthy appeared on "Fox News Sunday," while Cruz and Labrador were on NBC's "Meet the Press." Van Hollen appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation."
ST. CHARLES, Mo. (AP) — Texas Governor Rick Perry says President Barack Obama's health care law is a failure and should be defunded, but he doesn't think shutting down the federal government is a good option.
Perry spoke Saturday to hundreds of people gathered for the Conservative Political Action Conference in suburban St. Louis.
He told the crowd that "the culture in Washington is broken" and touted efforts in Republican-led states to cut taxes and spur job creation.
Perry said the federal health care law has failed before enrollment even begins Tuesday in new online insurance marketplaces.
This past week, Texas Senator Ted Cruz led an unsuccessful filibuster to block funding for the health care law in the federal budget year that starts Tuesday.
Perry says he supports defunding the law but not closing government.
CHICAGO (AP) - Gov. Pat Quinn's administration is trickling out information about what Illinois health insurance prices will be on the new marketplace that's a backbone of President Barack Obama's health care law.
Quinn's office announced Tuesday the monthly rates for the lowest-cost plan for a 25-year-old nonsmoker will be $120 in Chicago or $128 in Peoria. For a 40-year-old nonsmoker, the monthly cost of the cheapest plan would be $152 in Chicago or $163 in Peoria.
Most Illinois residents will be able to choose from at least 34 plans when the marketplace goes live Oct. 1.
Consumers will have to wait until then to learn exactly what choices will be available in their region and how much they'll pay. New tax credits will lower costs for some, depending on household income.
On October 1st, the federally mandated health insurance exchanges open enrollment. And that includes Missouri.
State voters passed a law last year that effectively barred the governor from setting up an insurance exchange, but that doesn't mean there isn't one.
The federal government will operate Missouri’s online marketplace, which is currently being set up. The federal website, healthcare.gov says it will be ready in time for enrollment to begin.
Under the new healthcare law, those who don't have insurance through their employers, schools, parents, a private policy or a public plan like Medicaid or Medicare will face fines next year. And many of them are expected to be young adults. The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that 25% of young adults in the Missouri are currently uninsured.
Illinois did set up a health insurance exchange.
Residents in both Missouri and Illinois can get more information about affordable coverage at healthcare.gov.
CLAYCOMO, Mo. (AP) — President Barack Obama is railing against attempts by, quote, a "faction of the far right" to undermine his health care law.
Obama tells an audience near Kansas City, Missouri quote, "They're focused on trying to mess with me. They're not focused on you."
Obama spoke shortly after the Republican-controlled House voted cut spending for the health care law, as part of a measure to extend current spending into December.
Obama says failure to raise the debt ceiling would send the economy into a tailspin.
The top health official in the nation is in St. Louis to take part in a discussion about the Affordable Care Act.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius met with local and state officials as part of a nationwide push to educate taxpayers about changes coming with Obamacare on Thursday. Part of the ACA calls for an expansion in Medicaid, but the legislature has rejected that proposal.
Sebelius will met with officials at City Hall at 2 PM.
MIAMI (AP) - Dear seniors, your Medicare benefits aren't changing under the Affordable Care Act. That's the message federal health officials are trying to get out to some older consumers confused by overlapping enrollment periods for Medicare and so-called "Obamacare."
Medicare beneficiaries don't have to do anything differently and will continue to go to Medicare.gov to sign up for plans. But advocates say many have been confused by a massive media blitz directing consumers to new online insurance exchanges set up as part of the federal health law. Many of the same insurance companies are offering coverage for Medicare and the exchanges.
Medicare open enrollment starts Oct. 15 and closes Dec. 7, while enrollment for the new state exchanges for people 65 and under launches Oct. 1 and runs through March.
"Most seniors are not at all informed. Most seniors worry they're going to lose their health coverage because of the law," said Dr. Chris Lillis, a primary care physician in Fredericksburg, Virginia. "I try to speak truth from the exam room but I think sometimes fear dominates."
Next month, roughly 50 million Medicare beneficiaries will get a handbook in the mail with a prominent Q&A that stresses Medicare benefits aren't changing. Federal health officials have also updated their training for Medicare counselors, and are prepping their Medicare call center and website.
"We want to reassure Medicare beneficiaries that they are already covered, their benefits aren't changing, and the marketplace doesn't require them to do anything different," said Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
But she said call centers for the state exchanges are already fielding questions from Medicare recipients and rerouting them to the Medicare line.
Bob Roza attended several meetings trying to figure out exactly what the Affordable Care Act means for him and his 69-year-old wife Gail, who has diabetes.
"At that time, I didn't know if Medicare would be secondary to some Affordable Care Act option. It was just a myriad of concerns and not knowing," said the 72-year-old Roza, a retiree who lives in Oakdale, Calif., and is recovering from hip replacement surgery earlier this year.
He now knows that his Medicare coverage won't change, but says he's now worried about the impact on the $614 a month he pays for Medicare supplemental insurance. Federal health officials said seniors will not be able to purchase Medicare supplemental insurance or Part D drug plans through the state exchanges.
Jodi Reid, executive director of the California Alliance for Retired Americans, worries there hasn't been enough outreach to seniors and that advocacy groups are spending the bulk of their advertising funds targeting those impacted by the exchange. Her organization, which represents nearly 1 million seniors in California, is putting together a one-page fact sheet to help dispel myths.
"Nothing has been done that I have seen to deal with the 4.4 million people in California who are on Medicare who are not going to be impacted the same way as the rest of us so it's causing a lot of confusion," she said.
AARP officials said they anticipate a spike in calls after the October launch date for the new state exchanges. To help clarify everything for seniors, the organization is holding various events around the country, such as a senior day next month at the state fair in Columbia, S.C. Next month, the group is also hosting 21 telephone town halls, which will include hundreds of thousands of phone calls to seniors.
"Usually the marketing is just targeted to the Medicare beneficiary, this time it's going to be spread out a little bit more. If they call the wrong places, we're doing our very best to make sure they're guided back to the correct place," said Nicole Duritz, vice president of health education.
In Illinois, it's not only seniors who are confused, but also the social workers who help them, said Erin Weir of AgeOptions, suburban Cook County's lead agency on aging. The agency coordinates a statewide training program for groups that work with older adults.
During these trainings, Weir said, she's repeatedly heard questions from social workers who think seniors will be able to sign up for Medicare programs on the new marketplace websites, even though they cannot.
"We've been focusing on people who are already on Medicare, calming them down and saying, `You don't have to do anything, you're fine,"' Weir said.
Advocates are also warning of scams that may pop up alongside legitimate door-to-door outreach about the Affordable Care Act ramps up and advising seniors not to give out personal information.
Senior groups are also devoting resources to educating the 50- to 65-year-old group who are next in line for Medicare, a segment that could be greatly affected by the health reform. Under the new law, insurers will have to offer more benefits in some cases and are restricted in how much they can charge older, sicker people. They're also banned from turning away those with pre-existing conditions.
Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, said many people nearing retirement age stand to benefit the most by the health care reform.
"They're the ones most likely to have pre-existing conditions, most likely to be charged more because of their age and medical condition and very likely to be an early retiree," he said.
CHICAGO (AP) - Illinois is building an 800-person army of temporary workers to help people sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
The "in-person counselor" jobs are located in every corner of the state, and range from a $9-an-hour part-time evening job in Clinton County to a $45,000-a-year project coordinator position in Chicago.
The workers will help consumers apply for coverage, answer questions and explain differences between the insurance policies offered on the new online marketplace.
Applications for the jobs are being collected online and anyone hired will get three days of training about health insurance, enrollment rules and other complicated aspects of the health law. Illinois must act quickly to be ready for Oct. 1, the first day of enrollment for the law's new insurance opportunities.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Three years after campaigning on a vow to "repeal and replace" President Barack Obama's health care law, House Republicans have yet to advance an alternative for the system they have voted more than three dozen times to abolish in whole or in part.
Officially, the effort is "in progress" — and has been since Jan. 19, 2011. That's according to GOP.gov, a leadership-run website.
But internal divisions, disagreement about political tactics and Obama's 2012 re-election add up to uncertainty over whether Republicans will vote on a plan of their own before the 2014 elections.
Or, if not by then, perhaps before the president leaves office, more than six years after the original promise.
Sixteen months before the midterm elections, some Republicans cite no need to offer an alternative.