WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — While addressing members of the press following the government shutdown, President Barack Obama said that Republicans in the House of Representatives “demanded ransom just for doing their jobs.”
During his prepared speech, given from the Rose Garden at the White House, Obama took several shots at the GOP, and said that it “did not have to happen,” but that he wants “every American to understand why it did happen.”
“At midnight last night … for the first time in 17 years, Republicans in Congress chose to shut down the federal government,” he said. “Let me be more specific; one faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of the government shut down major parts of the government all because they didn’t like one law.”
He additionally stated that the shutdown is not about the economy, the budget or deficits, which Obama claims to have “cut … in half since [he] took office.”
For the first time in nearly two decades, the federal government staggered into a partial shutdown early Tuesday morning after congressional Republicans stubbornly demanded changes in the nation’s health care law as the price for essential federal funding and President Barack Obama and Democrats adamantly refused.
About 800,000 federal workers, many already reeling from the effect of automatic budget cuts, would be ordered to report to work Tuesday for about four hours — but only to carry out shutdown-related chores such as changing office voicemail messages and completing time cards.
Some critical services such as patrolling the borders and inspecting meat would continue. Social Security benefits would be sent, and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.
Moments after midnight came and went on Tuesday morning, Obama released a video message regarding the shutdown.
“Unfortunately, Congress has not fulfilled its responsibility,” Obama said as Congress missed its deadline for finding a solution and staving off the shutdown. “It has failed to pass a budget and, as a result, much of our government must now shut down until Congress funds it again.”
Obama had said previously that a “shutdown will have a very real economic impact on real people, right away,” with hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed and veterans’ centers, national parks, most of the space agency and other government operations shuttered.
He laid the blame at the feet of House Republicans then as well, whom he accused of seeking to tie government funding to ideological demands, “all to save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right wing of their party.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, responded a short while later to Obama’s earlier comments on the House floor.
“The American people don’t want a shutdown and neither do I,” he said. Yet, he added, the new health care law “is having a devastating impact. … Something has to be done.”
Obama also made several statements regarding the controversial Affordable Care Act itself during his prepared remarks, which he said will, for the “15 percent of Americans who don’t have life insurance … in many cases for the first time in their lives … [allow them to] get affordable coverage that they desperately need.”
He urged those people to use Internet resources or phone-based hotlines for assistance in setting up health coverage for themselves in their families under the ACA – known also as “Obamacare” – despite complications experienced around the country by those attempting to access both resources.
A combination of high demand and technical glitches seemed to overwhelm the online system early in the day. Federal and state officials were working to address the problems, which led to long waits on government websites and a federal call center.
Obama used those problems to highlight the significance of the law to the uninsured.
“This gives you a sense of how important this is to millions of Americans — and that’s a good thing,” he said of the influx of traffic to the site, before promising that the glitches and delays will be addressed as time goes on.
Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters said that more than 1 million people had visited HealthCare.gov in the last day — five times more users than have ever been on the Medicare.gov at one time.
During his address, Obama negated Republican accusations that the ACA has negatively effected the economy, and also addressed rumors surrounding the health care legislation.
He noted, “There are no death panels.”
He addressed members of Congress directly toward the end of his speech when he urged them to, “[p]ass a budget. End the government shutdown. Pay your bills. Prevent an economic shutdown. Don’t wait, don’t delay. Don’t put the economy or the [American] people through this any longer.”
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