Is There An End In Sight For The Government Shutdown?

For the first time in 17 years, the U.S. government has shut down. Some 800,000 federal workers are furloughed, though employees deemed essential are still on the job — but it's unclear if or when they'll be paid. President Obama lays the blame squarely at the feet of Congressional Republicans. House Republicans blame Obama.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDEREDfrom NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. The federal government has been at least partially shut down for 20 hours now. There are barricades in front of national monuments and hundreds of thousands of employees are facing furlough and uncertainty about when or if they will be paid. And on Capitol Hill, there seems to be no clear end to the shutdown. NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now from the Capitol.

And Tamara, here we go again.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Yes.

CORNISH: Let's recap last night's events that got us into this shutdown. How did Congress let this happen?

KEITH: So, at about 10:30 last night, House Republicans announced a plan to create a conference committee to negotiate out the differences between the House and Senate bills. When that happened it became very clear that a shutdown was inevitable. I mean, conference committees take days, if not weeks.

And then, this morning, the Senate came in bright and early and knocked it down, said, nope, we're not even going to take that up. So, it's back to square one. Senators are - Senate Democrats are saying they've sent over now several times what they call a clean CR. That's a bill with none of the Obamacare delays or other defunding that House Republicans have been demanding, but just a simple bill to keep the government open for business through the middle of November. And they say that's what the House needs to pass.

CORNISH: And to be clear, this is the same kind of stopgap measure that the Senate sent over on Friday and effectively twice yesterday. So where does that leave the House now?

KEITH: Today, the House attempted to pass three bills that would fund popular parts of the government. These are things like Veterans Administration, the D.C. government and national parks. But those bills actually failed also.

House leaders had taken them up in sort of a rushed way that required a supermajority to pass. But Democrats mostly refused to vote for the bills. Mike Simpson is an Idaho Republican and spoke in favor of the parks bill and he foreshadowed the outcome, blaming Democrats in a speech on the House floor.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE SIMPSON: What you need to do is quit holding the national parks, the Smithsonian, the Holocaust museum and others hostage to your desire to shut down the government. That's what's going on here. You think we're holding the Affordable Health Care Act hostage, you're holding our national parks hostage.

KEITH: A number of members came up to the floor and talked about a group of World War II veterans who reportedly showed up at the World War II Memorial today and had to push past a barricade to get in.

CORNISH: So, as you said, ultimately these bills failed. So what happens now?

KEITH: Aides to Republican leaders say that the plan is to bring them up again through the regular process, which would only require a majority vote and then, in theory, would pass. They say that it isn't just these three bills. They're going to keep bringing up more and more bills to fund little bits and pieces of the government.

CORNISH: This is the House you're talking about right now?

KEITH: On the House side, exactly. But Democrats are not on board with this. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called this effort pathetic. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the best way to fund these popular programs is to fund the whole government, short-term, no strings attached.

SENATOR HARRY REID: This is not serious. The government is shut down and if they think they're going to come and nitpick us on this, it won't work. It won't work.

KEITH: The White House is also promising a veto, and a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner described the position of congressional Democrats and the White House as unsustainably hypocritical.

CORNISH: So, the endgame here?

KEITH: Lots of finger-pointing for now and waiting for someone to blink, it's just not sure who it will be. And part of that depends on how loud the cries are from the public and from the business community and furloughed federal employees.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Tamara, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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