Millions of Americans learn’t on Tuesday what President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare law actually means for them, as the administration opens new insurance marketplaces in 50 states despite a government shutdown. Where Senate refuses the budget over 80,000 Employees will not get salaries this month.
The launch marks a milestone for Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, which aims to provide subsidised healthcare to millions of the uninsured, the most ambitious US social programme since Medicare was introduced in the 1960s.
In an address from the White House Rose Garden Tuesday afternoon, President Barack Obama blamed Republican lawmakers for triggering the first government shutdown in nearly two decades.
Obama spoke roughly 12 hours after a longstanding budget stalemate on Capitol Hill caused a midnight shutdown, impacting a number of government agencies and initiatives across the board.
“At midnight last night, for the first time in 17 years, the Republicans in Congress chose to shut down the federal government,” Obama began his address.
“Let me be more specific: One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government shut down major parts of the government, all because they didn’t like one law,” the president said.
The shutdown erupted after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives failed to come to an agreement with the Democrat-led Senate with regards to passing the federal budget. At the core of the issue was the GOP’s reluctance to accept Obama’s Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” which finally went into effect Tuesday morning amid the shutdown, notwithstanding negative sentiment from the Republican party.
“This Republican shutdown did not have to happen, but I want every American to understand why it did happen,” the president said Tuesday. “Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to fund the government unless we defunded or dismantled the Affordable Care Act. They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans.”
“In other words,” said Obama, “they demanded ransom just for doing their job.”
In all, Congress’ failure to compromise on a budget is expected to end with 800,000 federal workers being sent home without pay and the closure of national parks and government programs across the country.
A cyclist reads a sign announcing the closure of a Park Service facility at Crissy Field due to the partial government shutdown on October 1, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (AFP Photo / Justin Sullivan)
“Veterans, who’ve sacrificed for their country, will find their support centers unstaffed,” Obama said Monday afternoon before the midnight deadline came and went without a compromise. “Tourists will find every one of America’s national parks and monuments, from Yosemite to the Smithsonian to the Statue of Liberty, immediately closed.”
On Tuesday, Obama said that hundreds of thousands of civilian workers, many still on the job and many forced to go home, aren’t being paid “even if they have families to support and local business to rely on them.”
“We know that the longer this shutdown continues, the worse the effects will be more families will be hurt, more businesses will be harmed,” he said. “Once again, I urge House Republicans to reopen the government. Re-start the services that Americans depend on.”
When the midnight deadline hit early Tuesday, the presidential Twitter account announced, “They actually did it. A group of Republicans in the House just forced a government shutdown over Obamacare instead of passing a real budget.”
Hours later at the White House Rose Garden, the president warned, “We may not know the full impact of this Republican shutdown for some time. It will depend on how long it lasts.”
But despite the shutdown, the president announced that starting Tuesday morning, millions of uninsured Americans are now provided the opportunity to purchase affordable healthcare through the hallmark legislation.
A visitor takes a picture of a sign announcing the closure of the Fort Point National Historic Site due to the partial government shutdown on October 1, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (AFP Photo / Justin Sullivan)
Speaking of the roughly 15 percent of uninsured Americans, the president said, “For them, and millions like them, this is a historic day.”
And while Republicans have largely opposed the president’s healthcare plan since before it was even approved in Congress, Obama dismissed allegations from his opponents that have yet to prove accurate.
“Most Republicans have made a whole bunch of predictions about this law that haven’t come true. There are no death panels. Costs haven’t skyrocketed,” he said.
Obama said the US has actually experienced its slowest rate of health spending growth on record since his insurance plan was announced, and added that the demand for Obamacare was so significant that more than one million Americans visited newly launched websites for those programs early Tuesday.
“I know it’s strange that one party would make keeping people uninsured the centerpiece of their agenda,” Obama said of House Republicans.
The last government shutdown occurred in 1996 during the administration of then-President Bill Clinton.