Isnin, 30 September 2013

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The Star Online: World Updates

U.S. government heads toward shutdown, Senate rebuffs House talks


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government was headed toward a major shutdown over Republican efforts to halt President Barack Obama's healthcare reforms using a temporary spending bill as last minute manoeuvres failed to resolve deep differences between Democrats and Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the House Republican offer of a panel to work out a deal on an emergency spending bill negotiation "with a gun to our head."

Reid instead called on the House to pass a Senate-approved measure that would keep the government funded through November 15.

With so little time remaining before a midnight (0400 GMT)deadline, a shutdown appeared inevitable. It would leave some essential functions like national security intact but sharply cut many regulatory agencies, furlough up to a million federal workers.

Earlier on Monday, competing spending measures flew back and forth between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Democratic-led Senate with increasing rapidity and without any sign of compromise.

The House repeatedly insisted that the measure to temporarily fund the government must include a delay of Obamacare, and the Senate kept stripping the delay out.

An anticipated revolt by moderate House Republicans fizzled earlier on Monday after House Speaker John Boehner made personal appeals to many of them to back him on a key procedural vote, said Republican Representative Peter King of New York.

"John said, 'This is going to work out. Trust me,'" said King, one of only a handful of at least two dozen House Republican moderates who rejected the appeal and voted "no."

Boehner prevailed on the procedural vote 225-204.

After Boehner made his personal appeal, House Democratic Whip Steyn Toyer called on him to permit a vote on a simple extension of federal funding of the government without any Obamacare add-on.

"I dare you to do that," Toyer roared, confident such a measure would win bipartisan approval. "Let democracy work."


On Monday afternoon, Obama appeared resigned to a shutdown, stepping into the White House press room to reiterate that the shutdown would be the fault of the "extreme right wing" of the Republican Party, referring to the conservative Tea Party.

He also reassured the public that while poor people and seniors, among others, would continue to receive benefit checks in the event of a shutdown, many other functions of government would grind to a halt, throwing "a wrench into the gears of our economy."

And he taunted Republicans about Obamacare, a program aimed at providing healthcare coverage to millions of uninsured Americans. It "takes effect tomorrow no matter what Congress decides to do today ... you can't shut it down."

Republicans say the launch on Tuesday of new online government health insurance exchanges will cause premiums to rise and deter companies from hiring new workers.

The White House later said Obama placed calls to top lawmakers, continuing to press the Republican leadership for six weeks of government funding, free of any "ideological riders."

Obama also signed a measure that would ensure troops get paid in the event of a shutdown. The bill was passed by the House on the weekend and the Senate on Monday.

Americans are split over whether funding for Obama's signature healthcare law should be linked to measures that pay for U.S. government operations, but more will blame Republicans if the government has to shut down on Tuesday, according to a new Reuters/ Ipsos poll.

The duration of the "funding gap," the bureaucratic term for a partial government shutdown, would depend on when lawmakers finally approve a funding bill.

Some functions deemed essential, such as U.S. Department of Agriculture meat inspections, would continue. Other agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, will furlough most of their workers.

A shutdown would continue until Congress resolves its differences. That could be a matter of days, or weeks.

The standoff does not bode well for the next political battle, a far-more consequential bill to raise the federal government's borrowing authority. Failure to raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling by mid-October would force the United States to default on some payment obligations - an event that could cripple its economy and send shockwaves around the globe.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Caren Bohan, Kim Dixon and Gabriel Debenedetti in Washington and Ryan Vlastica in New York; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

Factbox - What would happen, who would be furloughed if U.S. government shuts down?


(Reuters) - If Congress cannot agree on a funding bill for the U.S. government by a midnight deadline, there will be far-reaching consequences for federal agencies dealing with everything from Social Security checks to initial public offerings and National Park admissions.

Much of the impact or relative lack of disruption is determined by whether agencies are partly funded by industry user fees or deemed to be essential services.

Here is a roundup of some of the impact that would be felt:

FEDERAL WORKERS: As many as 1 million federal employees could face unpaid furloughs or missed paydays, according to the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 670,000 union members.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The Executive Office of the President will furlough about 1,265 staff and retain 436 as excepted workers. Among the staff retained will be 15 to provide "minimum maintenance and support" for the White House. Executive agencies will be reduced to skeleton staff, including four at the Council of Economic Advisors.

U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION: The SEC would continue reviewing applications for initial public offerings (IPOs) and monitoring markets as normal in the early weeks of a government shutdown, and can continue operating fully for a few weeks, a spokesman said.

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Signup for the new U.S. health exchanges under the Affordable Care Act due to start on October 1 will proceed. [ID:nL1N0HQ1R3] Across the vast department and its sub-agencies, about 52 percent of staff will be furloughed - some 40,512 workers. Among the programs shuttered would be the Centers for Disease Control's annual seasonal flu influenza program. The National Institutes of Health would not admit new patients in most circumstances.

U.S. FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: Some 55 percent of the FDA's employees will be working. Of those reporting to work, 74 percent will be funded with fees paid to the FDA by the industries it regulates. The FDA's expert advisory committee meetings, which recommend whether the agency should approve new products, will for the most part continue. The next scheduled panel is on October 8 to recommend whether to approve expanded use of certain pacemakers and defibrillators from Medtronic Inc.. The FDA will cease most of its food safety, nutrition and cosmetics activities, such as routine inspections of plants and facilities. It will also be unable to monitor imports, and will cease certain compliance and enforcement activities.

U.S. INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES: Substantial numbers of intelligence personnel could be placed on leave, but those assigned to vital national security missions, including supporting the president, and collecting data from informants or spy devices such as eavesdropping systems or satellites, will generally remain on the job.

Shawn Turner, chief spokesman for National Intelligence Director James Clapper, said: "The immediate and significant reduction in employees on the job means that we will assume greater risk and our ability to support emerging intelligence requirements will be curtailed."

NATIONAL PARKS: National parks would close, meaning a loss of 750,000 daily visitors and an economic loss to gateway communities of as much as $30 million for each day parks are shut, according to the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT: All military personnel would continue on normal duty status, but half of the Defense Department's 800,000 civilian employees would be placed on unpaid leave. Pentagon has said it will halt military activity not critical to national security.

Officials have said military personnel, who are paid twice a month, would receive their October 1 paychecks but might see their October 15 paychecks delayed if a government shutdown takes place and no funding deal is reached by October 7.

INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE: Most of the federal tax agency's 90,000 employees would be furloughed. Taxpayers who requested an extension beyond the April 15 deadline to file their 2012 taxes must do so by October 15 and will be able to file these returns even if the IRS is still shut down then.

FEDERAL RESERVE AND OTHER FINANCIAL AGENCIES: Bank regulators, including the Federal Reserve and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, would stay open because they do not rely on Congress for funding. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency pay for themselves and would remain open. Loans guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will still be available during the government shutdown. Both firms, which were seized by the U.S. government in 2008 as rising mortgage losses threatened them with insolvency, will continue normal operations. The Federal Housing Administration, which offers mortgage lenders guarantees against homeowner defaults, will have limited operations.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: Fewer than 18,000 of the department's 114,486 employees would be furloughed, and if the furlough is prolonged, some of those could be brought back to work. Criminal litigation would continue under a government shutdown, while civil litigation would be curtailed or postponed as much as possible "without compromising to a significant degree the safety of human life or the protection of property," the department said in its contingency plan.

COURTS: The U.S. Supreme Court would probably operate normally, as it has during previous shutdowns, but a spokesman declined to share the high court's plans. Federal courts would remain open for about 10 business days if the government closes on October 1, and their status would be reassessed on or about October 15.

U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE'S OFFICE: Already squeezed by automatic spending cuts imposed by the so-called sequester, the USTR office has reduced travel to the 41 countries where there are concerns about intellectual property, Trade Representative Michael Froman said.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: The agency would be one of the hardest hit, with less than 7 percent of its employees exempt from furlough. The broad-based shutdown of all but emergency services would delay rule-making, potentially including finalization of renewable fuel volume requirements for 2014.

AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT: USDA meat inspectors would stay on the job. Statistical reports would not be published, and the important October 11 U.S. crop report could be delayed depending on how long a shutdown lasts. USDA has said its website,, "will go dark and be linked to a 'splash' page," denying access to historical data and other information.

TRAVEL: Air and rail travellers in the United States should not feel a big impact, since passport inspectors, security officers and air traffic controllers will all continue to work as usual.

WASHINGTON SIGHTS: Most popular tourist spots in the nation's capital would close, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the National Zoo and all Smithsonian Museums. The zoo's live animal webcams would be disabled. All animals will continue to be fed and cared for.

(Reporting by the Washington bureau; Editing by Ros Krasny and Philip Barbara)

A million U.S. government workers, unions brace for shutdown


(Reuters) - As many as a million U.S. government employees were making urgent plans on Monday for a possible midnight shutdown, with their unions urging Congress to strike a last-minute deal.

To avoid sending hundreds of thousands of workers across the country home without pay, lawmakers must act within hours, but it was unclear if an agreement could be reached in time.

On the streets of Washington at midday, federal worker Gary Peyton Hardaway, 30, said he faced possible furlough, but that he was "optimistic" a deal could be reached.

If not, he predicted a shutdown would be short in duration. "At that point, pretty much Congress and the whole world will realize how serious it is," Hardaway told Reuters.

If Congress fails to approve a spending bill before Tuesday, between 800,000 and 1 million government workers will be forced to take unpaid time off.

Only "essential" personnel at national parks, federal courthouses, food stamp programs, passport offices and other agencies funded by congressional appropriations would keep working until the government is authorized to spend money again.

Nearly 2.8 million people were employed by the federal government as of September 2012, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Not all, however, are at agencies that would be affected by a shutdown.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, estimated half its 670,000 members would be furloughed, while the other half, deemed essential, would work, but not get paid until after a deal is reached.

"Half will be told to stay home without pay, half will be told to come to work without pay," spokesman Tim Kauffman said.

If there is a shutdown, union leaders said, they would pressure Congress to ensure that furloughed federal employees are also paid after the fact. Congress would have to authorize such payments, as it did for workers affected by the last government shutdown in late 1995 and early 1996.

"The National Treasury Employees Union will be leading the fight to make that happen," the union's president, Colleen Kelley, told Reuters, adding that 90 percent of the workforce it represented at the Internal Revenue Service was facing furlough.

In a shutdown, taxes would not be collected; audits would not be done; and a skeleton crew at the IRS would not be providing taxpayer guidance, Kelley said.

IRS workers have already had to take off three unpaid days from work since May due to the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester. "The non-stop questions about the future are something that is very disheartening to longtime federal employees, they're tired," Kelley said.

The American Federation of Government Employees had conference calls set for Monday night to answer questions from members about what to expect if furloughed. An online campaign encourages members to call lawmakers, write letters to the editor and organize picket lines in their cities.

A 43-year-old IRS worker facing furlough, who asked not to be identified due to the nature of his work, told Reuters his office was "completely distracted" by the looming shutdown.

"I'm mostly sorry for the state of our government," he said. "It's an embarrassment for the country that the government can't get simple things done."

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Mohammad Zargham)


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