By Tom Cohen
WASHINGTON (CNN) — With a government shutdown looming, politicians in Washington were talking at each other Monday instead of negotiating a way to avoid it.
At the stroke of midnight, big parts of the federal government will begin shutting down unless Congress can find a way to bridge differences over health-care reform and other issues.
The American people don’t like the idea of a federal shutdown, according to a new poll. And the stock market isn’t happy, with U.S. stocks falling at Monday’s opening.
But members of Congress persisted Monday in blaming the other side as the shutdown deadline grew ever closer.
Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina said Monday on CNN’s “New Day” that her party continues to be deeply concerned about Tuesday’s scheduled opening of Obamacare health insurance exchanges and “keeping the checkbook out of Barack Obama’s hands and the damage can be done there.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, D-Florida, appearing alongside Ellmers, characterized the Republican strategy of tying overall government operations to at least a delay in health care changes as “irrational.”
“It jeopardizes the economy, and it makes no sense,” she said.
President Barack Obama told reporters he wasn’t resigned to a shutdown, but he signaled its likelihood even as he indicated possible talks with congressional leaders.
“I suspect that I will be speaking to the leaders today, tomorrow and the next day,” Obama said at a joint appearance with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who acknowledged the Washington brouhaha by thanking the president for meeting with him “on what I know is a very busy day for you.”
Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said essential crime prevention and military services would continue, but some workers would be furloughed. Holder said he would cut his pay by the same amount as the most severely affected Justice Department employees because “we are all in this together.”
The Senate is scheduled to meet Monday afternoon and is expected to consider a bill passed by the Republican-controlled House that would delay Obamacare for a year and repeal a tax on medical devices.
But the Senate’s Democratic leadership has consistently rejected tying the spending resolution to Obamacare, leaving little apparent room to avoid a shutdown in the few hours before it would begin.
House Speaker John Boehner said Monday that the House had passed a spending plan, and now it was up to the Senate to act. He complained that the Senate didn’t meet on Sunday, asking, “If there is such an emergency, where are they?”
With the Senate expected to again strip any Obamacare provisions from the spending plan and then sending it back to the House, Boehner could put such a “clean” provision to a vote.
On CNN, Wasserman Schultz predicted that the measure would pass easily with support from all Democrats and more moderate Republicans.
However, another House GOP leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, said his caucus had another counterproposal ready if the Senate rejects the latest House version, as expected.
“I think the House will get back together and 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 it again,” McCarthy said on “Fox News Sunday.”
He provided no details, but such a counterproposal was expected to include some kind of Obamacare provision such as ending a tax on medical devices opposed by Republicans and some Democrats.
Obama and Democrats reject what they call Republican efforts to use the threat of a government shutdown to force negotiations on the president’s signature health care reforms.
Noting that the 2010 Affordable Care Act has been upheld by the Supreme Court, they say it is settled law that voters endorsed last year by re-electing Obama over GOP candidate Mitt Romney, who campaigned on repealing it.
Obama said Monday that a simple solution to avoid a government shutdown was to “set aside the short-term politics” and instead focus on a long-term budget deal.
“It simply requires everybody to act responsibly and do what’s right for the American people,” he said.
A new CNN/ORC poll shows that Americans are not happy about the prospect of a shutdown, which is happening because Congress has been unable to pass a budget for the new fiscal year that begins Tuesday.
According to the poll, 68% of Americans think shutting down the government for even a few days is a bad idea, while 27% think it’s a good idea.
And it appears most Americans would blame congressional Republicans for a shutdown: Sixty-nine percent said they agreed with the statement that the party’s elected officials were acting like “spoiled children.” Democrats, however, weren’t far behind: Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they too were acting like spoiled kids.
Stock traders also seemed solidly against a shutdown.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 150 points at Monday’s opening, while the Nasdaq dropped 1% and the S&P 500 fell 0.9%.
Among major economic issues that could result from a shutdown: delays in processing FHA housing loan applications — a potential drag on the housing recovery — and the potential loss of government spending that’s helping prop up the economy, said Christine Romans, host of CNN’s “Your Money.”
“You’ve got an economy right now that’s very tied to government spending and government contracts, so that could have a ripple effect all across Main Street,” she said on CNN’s “New Day.”
If the government does shut down, it would be the first time it has happened since 1995. That shutdown, sparked by a budget battle between Democratic President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress, went on 21 days.
While the military will remain on duty, as will many essential public safety, health and welfare operations, many government offices will close. About a quarter of the federal government’s 3.3 million employees — those frequently referred to as “nonessential” — will be told to stay home from work until the shutdown is over.
The rest are supposed to be workers whose duties involve “the safety of human life or the protection of property or performing certain other types of excepted work.”
As it happens, members of Congress fall into that catch-all list.
CNN’s Michael Pearson, Holly Yan, Dana Bash, Ted Barrett, Lisa Desjardins and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.
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