WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress plunged the nation into a partial government shutdown Tuesday as a long-running dispute over President Barack Obama's health care law forced about 800,000 federal workers off the job, suspending all but essential services.
The National Zoo's popular online "panda cam" went dark around 8 a.m. The White House grounds cut back to a skeletal staff. The U.S. Capitol canceled tours not personally led by Congress members.
With the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate at a stalemate, it was unclear how long a temporary bill needed to finance government activities would be stalled. The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, called the failure to pass a budget "conduct unbefitting a responsible Congress" and said he hoped it could be resolved by the end of the day Tuesday.
"Most people in the body politic are taking a look at this and saying, 'A pox on both of your houses. It should never have reached this point,'" Durbin said Tuesday morning on CNN.
But in the House, conservative Rep. Marsha Blackburn predicted the standoff would drag on if Obama and Senate Democrats refused to negotiate over delaying a key part of the health care law.
"You may see a partial shutdown for several days," Blackburn, R-Tenn., told Fox News. "People are going to realize they can live with a lot less government."
The health care law itself was unaffected as enrollment opened Tuesday for millions of people shopping for medical insurance.
The shutdown, the first since the winter of 1995-96, closed national parks across the nation. In Washington, the Smithsonian museums website displayed a red banner noting that "all Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are closed." Traffic was lighter and subways less crowded Tuesday morning.
Panda mom Mei Xiang could be seen snuggling with her weeks-old cub through the morning, until the Washington zoo's online feed was cutoff around 8 a.m. Care of the animals will continue.