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US govt begins partial shutdown

Lawmakers and the senate have failed to agree on a spending bill to fund the government.

US President Barack Obama. Picture: AFP

WASHINGTON - The US government has begun a partial shutdown for the first time in 17 years, potentially putting up to one million workers on unpaid leave, closing national parks and stalling medical research projects.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives and the senate have failed to agree on a spending bill to fund the government.

The two sides have bickered and blamed each other for more than a week over the so-called Obamacare, US President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

Spending for essential functions related to national security and public safety will continue, including pay for US military troops.

But employees deemed non-essential will be temporarily laid off.

Obama has explained what the shutdown would mean.

"Nasa will shut down almost entirely, but mission control will remain open to support the astronauts serving on the space station. I also want to be very clear about what will change. Office buildings will close, pay checks will be delayed and vital services that seniors, veterans, women and children, businesses and our economy depend on will be hamstrung."

POLITICAL POLARISATION

The shutdown is the culmination of three years of divided government and growing political polarisation.

It was spearheaded by Tea Party conservatives united in their opposition to Obama, their distaste for Obama's healthcare law and their campaign pledges to rein in government spending.

Obama refused to negotiate over the Republican demands and warned a shutdown could "throw a wrench into the gears of our economy."

"It's not shocking there is a shutdown, the shock is that it hasn't happened before this. We have a divided government with such diametrically opposed views. We need a crisis to get any kind of results," said Republican strategist John Feehery, a former Capitol Hill aide.

In the hours leading up to the deadline, the Democratic-controlled Senate repeatedly stripped measures passed by the House that tied temporary funding for government operations to delaying or scaling back Obamacare.

The Senate instead insisted on funding the government through 15 November without special conditions.

Whether the shutdown represents another bump in the road for a congress increasingly plagued by dysfunction or is a sign of a more alarming breakdown in the political process could be determined by the reaction among voters and on Wall Street.

The shutdown will continue until congress resolves its differences, which could be days or months. But the conflict could spill over into the more crucial dispute over raising the federal government's borrowing authority.

A failure to raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling would force the country to default on its obligations, dealing a potentially painful blow to the economy and sending shockwaves around global markets.

Timeline

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