WASHINGTON -- Government funding will expire Monday night at midnight, unless Democrats and Republicans unite behind a political solution.
But there were few signs of cooperation after the Senate convened late Thursday morning in what was becoming a very fast-moving situation. Chamber leaders were scrambling to schedule a procedural vote Thursday afternoon and possibly even a final vote on a House bill to continue government funding.
That would have sent the measure back to the House late Thursday, or, if some time requirements couldn't be agreed upon, Sunday --two days before a possible shutdown.
At issue is a bill the Republican-controlled House voted 230-189 for last week that continues government funding until Dec. 15, but strips funding for the 2010 Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. The Democratic-controlled Senate has countered with a proposal that continues funding until Nov. 15 but restores funding for the health care law.
Both sides were digging in their heels Thursday morning. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Republicans were risking benefits for Social Security recipients and veterans, the disabled, small businesses seeking loans and families who need mortgage help.
"Members of the United States military could be forced to defend this country without even a paycheck as thanks. And billions of dollars will drain from the economy every day the government is closed for business," Reid said.
"This country cannot be governed by one faction of one party on one side of the Capitol. Governing must be a cooperative effort that sets aside ideological or parochial concerns in favor of what is best for the nation, for the economy and for middle-class families," he added.
Republicans kept their fire focused on the health care law, the signature achievement of President Barack Obama's first term, much of which is scheduled to begin Tuesday, with the new fiscal year. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky repeated a plea for a handful of Democrats to cross the aisle and vote against funding the law.
"This law is a mess. It needs to go. It's way past time to start over. And, as I've been saying all week, we need just five brave Democrats to join with us to make that happen," McConnell said.
Speaking Thursday at an event in Largo, Md., Obama touted the health care law and derided Republicans for risking a government shutdown.
"The closer we get to [Tuesday], the more irresponsible those who are opposed to it have become," he said. "The Affordable Care Act is here to stay."
If a shutdown occurs, federal workers who are deemed "essential" would continue in their positions -- jobs considered necessary to ensure public safety, such as emergency workers, food inspectors and air traffic controllers. But many workers will be furloughed, likely without pay, and a wide variety of other federal services will either stop or be delayed. Other effects will be mixed; mail service won't stop, for example, but checks for Social Security recipients and veterans could be delayed as those agencies cope with fewer employees to process them.
The impact on the military would be mixed as well. In a 28-page memo to Defense Department employees last week, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said military personnel "would continue in a normal duty status," but "a large number of our civilian employees would be temporarily furloughed." As to whether furloughed employees would eventually receive back pay, the DOD memo says that will be determined by Congress.
Military personnel would see their pay delayed starting around mid-October until after the shutdown ends. Military contractors would likely see their pay stopped or at least delayed until the shutdown ends, although exceptions could be made for duties deemed essential.
Other military officials predicted scenarios such as transfers being delayed, some service reductions and nonessential maintenance tasks postponed.
Carter's memo minced no words in describing the potential impact, saying a shutdown "could impose hardships on many employees and disrupt important national security projects."
There has not been a government shutdown since two brief periods in the mid-1990s -- a five-day stretch in November 1995 and another 21-day period in January 1996. At that time, federal employees eventually received back pay, but contractors did not. An estimated 20 percent of federal contractors in Washington were affected by the shutdown, according to the Congressional Research Service.