For the first time in nearly two decades, the U.S. government is closed for business. As the clock ticked to midnight throughout a day filled with bitter recriminations, House and Senate lawmakers were unable to reach a short-term funding agreement or break a stalemate over Republican demands that the Affordable Care Act, or parts of it, be delayed.
At 11:48 p.m. on Monday, the Office of Management and Budget sent a memorandum to federal agencies directing them to "execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations."
Today, approximately 800,000 federal employees are on furlough, and another million are working without pay.
African-Americans will bear the brunt of the closure, according to Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, because of their disproportionately high representation in the government workforce.
"Contrary to what the people who hate government try to generate in the minds of Americans, there aren't a lot of rich people who work for the federal government," he told BET.com after the House's final vote early Tuesday morning. "We've got people who live from paycheck to paycheck and it's going to be tough for them."
If the closure lasts too long, he warned, the economy will be damaged, and the Black unemployment rate could spike even higher.
"If we fall backward in the economic recovery, our numbers are going to be the first to rise," Cleaver said. "So this isn't good for anybody, but it's particularly not good for Black and brown Americans."
The Senate on Monday twice rejected bills from the House that would defund the Affordable Care Act or delay for one year the individual mandate requiring all Americans to buy health insurance. The final bill passed by the House also stripped employer subsidies to help congressional lawmakers and their staffs and employees in the government executive branch, including President Obama and Vice President Biden, pay for health insurance.
"Albert Einstein defined insanity as, 'doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.' Tonight, we have more proof that House Republicans have lost their minds," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said of their repeated efforts to tie the health care law to legislation to keeping the government open.
Democrats, and even some Republicans, have placed full blame for the shutdown on House GOP lawmakers, who they say are being held hostage by Tea Party conservatives. Indeed, many of them won election because of their fierce opposition to Obamacare.
"It's more of a cult than a [political] party," veteran New York Congressman Charles Rangel told BET.com, made up of people willing to damage the GOP and the nation.
So, what happens next?
House Speaker John Boehner at the 11th hour called for lawmakers to meet in what is called a conference committee to negotiate an agreement. But Reid has rejected the request and says he will not enter into any negotiations until Congress passes a short-term budget with no conditions or strings attached.
Although Americans continue to be divided and confused about the health care law, 72 percent oppose Congress shutting down the government to block its implementation, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
The conventional wisdom is that in the end, the public also will place more of the blame for the shutdown on Republicans. And they may pay a political price for it in the 2014 midterm election cycle, as they did after the last government closure 17 years ago. In additions, Democrats on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are completely united in their unwillingness to concede to GOP demands.
"We can't win," Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) told the Associated Press.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)