Their unity fraying, House Republicans bent but did not blink Monday in their demand for changes to the nation's health care overhaul as the price for preventing the first partial government shutdown in 17 years.
"We're at the brink," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., moments after the Senate voted to reject the latest GOP attempt to tie government financing to delays in "Obamacare."
The stock market dropped on fears that political gridlock between the White House and a tea party-heavy Republican Party would prevail, though analysts suggested significant damage to the national economy was unlikely unless a shutdown lasted more than a few days.
Still, a shutdown would send hundreds of thousands of workers home and inconvenience millions of people who rely on federal services or are drawn to the nation's parks and other attractions. Some critical parts of the government — from the military to air traffic controllers — would remain open.
As lawmakers squabbled, President Barack Obama urged House Republicans to abandon demands he said were designed to "save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right of their party." Speaking of the health care law that undergoes a major expansion on Tuesday, he said emphatically, "You can't shut it down."
Hours before the possible shutdown, the Senate voted 54-46 to reject the House-passed measure that would have kept the government open but would have delayed implementation of the health care law for a year and permanently repealed a medical device tax that helps finance it.
House Republicans, reacting swiftly, decided to try again. Their new proposal was to allow the government to remain open, while imposing a one-year delay in a requirement in the health care law for individuals to purchase coverage. That measure also would require members of Congress and their aides as well as the administration's political appointees to bear the full cost of their own coverage by barring the government from making the customary employer contribution.