WASHINGTON — Nobody blinked.
With eyes wide open, the House and Senate failed to reach a deal to fund the government as a new fiscal year began at midnight Monday, shutting down federal functions deemed non-essential and setting up an uncertain collision course ahead.
It wasn't clear how long the shutdown was likely to last, or how exactly it might end.
But the impasse over extending the government's financing for even three months fueled fears that Congress would stumble in the more serious showdown two weeks from now, over raising the debt ceiling so the United States could pay its bills. And it raised questions about whether House Speaker John Boehner could continue to hold together Tea Party troops demanding a fight and some moderate Republicans who seem increasingly uneasy about the GOP's course.
President Obama said in an appearance in the White House briefing room just before the evening newscasts that he would never agree to delay the key provisions of his signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act. "One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn't get to shut down the entire government just to re-fight the results of the last election," he said.
House Republicans made it clear they had no plans to back down from their demands to delay or defund the health care law's central provisions. "It's about fairness for the American people," Boehner declared on the House floor.
As long as neither side budges, Yellowstone National Park will remain closed, new passports delayed and 800,000 federal workers furloughed in the first government shutdown in 17 years.
Meanwhile, the online marketplaces established under "Obamacare" are scheduled to open for enrollment Tuesday despite the shutdown that centered on efforts to derail the health care law.
It was a day of partisan pingpong.
At midday, the Senate voted along party lines to strip from the government funding bill the provisions the House had approved last Saturday night that would delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act for a year. Hours later, the House passed a new funding bill (again, largely along party lines) that would delay the law's individual mandate for a year. It also would eliminate federal subsidies for health insurance for congressional employees.
In less than an hour — warp speed on Capitol Hill — the Senate's Democratic majority voted to strip those provisions from the bill. "They have lost their minds," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said of the House. The party-line Senate vote sent the funding bill back to the House as the countdown clocks on cable TV ticked toward midnight.
In the final moments, playing out on C-SPAN, the debate turned to which side would get blamed. At midnight, the House was debating whether to appoint a conference committee to negotiate differences with the Senate. But an hour earlier, Reid had announced that the Senate wouldn't agree to a conference until the House had passed a funding bill with no strings attached.
Uncertainty about the government's funding carries risks for the economy, potentially undercutting the confidence of business owners and consumers. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 129 points Monday amid just the threat of a shutdown.
The political risks for all those involved also is considerable.
Two-thirds of Americans say a government shutdown of even a few days would be "a bad thing," according to a CNN/ORC poll released Monday, and approval of Congress sank to a record low 10%. Surveys show Americans more inclined to blame Republicans than Democrats for a shutdown.
But the president's rating also has been sagging, to 44% in the CNN poll; 53% disapprove of the job he's doing.
During the 2012 campaign, Obama predicted in an interview with USA TODAY and elsewhere that his re-election would "break the fever" of partisanship that had seized Washington. Nearly a year later, that only direction that fever seems to be going is up.