Government Shutdown: What's Going On?

Congress continues to struggle to reach a deal to reopen government and extend the nation's debt limit.

A plan by the Republican-led House to pass a bill that would end the government shutdown and prevent the United States from defaulting on its financial obligations came to a screeching halt on Tuesday. A vote scheduled for that night was canceled because of opposition from the caucus' most conservative faction.

The proposed legislation called for funding the government through Dec. 15. It also would have increased the debt ceiling until Feb. 7 and prohibited the Treasury Department from using "extraordinary measures" to prevent the government from default on its debt. In addition, it included a provision that would end federal health insurance subsidies for members of Congress and their staff, as well as the president and administration officials buying coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had been close to finalizing a bipartisan deal to fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit through Feb. 7. It did not include any significant changes to the health care law.

"Extremist Republicans in the House of Representatives are attempting to torpedo the Senate's bipartisan progress with a bill that can't pass the Senate," Reid said on the Senate floor.

After a meeting between President Obama and House Democratic leaders Tuesday afternoon, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also slammed the House bill, calling it a "decision to default."

Adding to the drama, Fitch, one of the nation's top three credit agencies, issued a warning that it may downsize the nation's AAA credit rating and have placed it on a "Ratings Watch Negative."

"Although Fitch continues to believe that the debt ceiling will be raised soon, the political brinkmanship and reduced financing flexibility could increase the risk of a U.S. default," the firm said in a statement.

The ensuing crisis also represents a defining moment for House Speaker John Boehner, whom critics have accused of putting his leadership position before the needs of the United States. Although it is widely believed that there are enough votes from Democrats and moderate Republicans in the House to pass a bill to reopen government and prevent default, he is following the lead of Tea Party conservatives instead of acting like a leader, they say.

While Boehner figures out his next move, Reid and McConnell have resumed their negotiations. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, told reporters Tuesday night that McConnell's stamp of approval could help win much needed support in the House, but he's not willing to bet on it.

"The House Republicans still believe that they can get concessions for doing their job," Obama said in an interview with WABC-TV. "We'll see how that plays itself out."

The president expects that the Senate efforts could succeed, he added, "but we don't have a lot of time."

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  (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

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