The Republican majority in the House of Representatives passed on an opportunity to resolve the U.S.'s latest fiscal impasse, adopting budget measures in the wee hours Sunday even though the Senate's Democratic leader and the Democratic president had said unequivocally that they wouldn't accept them.
As a result, the U.S. government now is a little more than a day away from halting all non-essential services because its legislators are incapable of agreeing on a way to extend spending authority into a new fiscal year that begins on Tuesday.
Tens of thousands of federal workers would be put on furlough, the processing of passports and other services would slow and national parks would close. There also is a prospect of a new wave of volatility in international financial markets, as investors weigh the implications of political dysfunction on the world's largest economy.
At issue is President Barack Obama's 2010 healthcare law, a sprawling piece of legislation that is causing confusion in the general public and is extremely unpopular with the Republican Party's core supporters.
The party's Tea Party wing – which holds considerable sway in the House because Speaker John Boehner can't control the legislative agenda without it – is insisting that any budget compromise include some measure that impedes "Obamacare."
After a rare Saturday meeting with his caucus, Mr. Boehner said the House would hold votes on delaying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act by a year and scrapping a tax on medical devices.
Technically, they were amendments to a Senate bill that would extend current spending authority to November with no strings attached. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid immediately said they would refuse both amendments.
The House proceeded with a debate anyway and passed its updated version of the Senate bill after midnight. The legislative process now returns the measure to the Senate, where the outcome – barring a spectacular shift in the Democratic position before Monday, when Senators return to the Capitol after weekend – is preordained.
Tim Kaine, a Democratic senator from Virginia, reiterated Sunday that he and his colleagues would remove the House amendments from the bill and sent it back to the House.
That suggests a best case scenario of an 11th hour capitulation by the Republican leadership that would see a clean bill passed with the support of moderate Republicans and the Democratic minority. Such an outcome probably could put a bill on the president's desk for signature before the start of the working day on Tuesday.
There is little reason to expect that scenario, however. Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas who has led the legislative revolt against "Obamacare," said Sunday that if the government shuts down, it's Mr. Reid's fault. "Harry Reid has to move off his absolutist position," Mr. Cruz said in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Republicans contend that Mr. Obama has shown willingness to adjust aspects of his signature domestic achievement – he delayed by a year that would have forced companies with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance for full-time workers – and therefore it's reasonable to demand that he do so again.
Kevin McCarthy, a Republican congressman from California and the party's whip in the House, indicated in an interview on Fox News Sunday that they would the Senate's rejection of their revised budget bill with new amendments. He insisted there was time to avoid the worst.
"We will not shut the government down," Mr. McCarthy said.