WASHINGTON - For the first time in nearly two decades, the federal government staggered into a partial shutdown Monday at midnight after congressional Republicans demanded changes in the nation's health-care law as the price for essential federal funding and President Barack Obama and Democrats adamantly refused.
As Congress gridlocked, Obama said a "shutdown will have a very real economic impact on real people, right away," with hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed and many government operations shuttered.
Earlier Monday the stock market dropped on fears that political gridlock would prevail. Dow Jones industrials were down 128 points.
Obama laid the blame at the feet of House Republicans, whom he accused of seeking to tie government funding to ideological demands, "all to save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right wing of their party."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, responded a short while later on the House floor. "The American people don't want a shutdown and neither do I," he said. Yet, he added, the new health
care law "is having a devastating impact. ... Something has to be done."
A few minutes before midnight, Budget Director Sylvia Burwell issued a directive to federal agencies to "execute plans for an orderly shutdown." While an estimated 800,000 federal workers faced furloughs, some critical parts of the government — from the military to air traffic controllers — would remain open.
Any interruption in federal funding would send divided government into territory unexplored in nearly two decades. Then, Republicans suffered grievous political damage and President Bill Clinton benefitted from twin shutdowns. Now, some Republicans said they feared a similar outcome.
If nothing else, some Republicans also conceded it was impossible to use funding legislation to squeeze concessions from the White House on health care. "We can't win," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
"We're on the brink," Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Md., said shortly after midday as the two houses maneuvered for political advantage and the Obama administration's budget office prepared for a partial shutdown, the first since the winter of 1995-1996.
On a long day and night in the Capitol, the Senate torpedoed one GOP attempt to tie government financing to changes in "Obamacare." House Republicans countered with a second despite unmistakable signs their unity was fraying — and Senate Democrats promptly rejected it, as well.
Defiant still, House Republicans decided to re-pass their earlier measure and simultaneously request negotiations with the Senate on a compromise. Some aides conceded the move was largely designed to make sure that the formal paperwork was on the Senate's doorstep as the day ended.
Whatever its intent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev„ rejected it. "That closes government. They want to close government," he said of House Republicans.
As lawmakers squabbled, Obama spoke bluntly about House Republicans. "You don't get to extract a ransom for doing your job, for doing what you're supposed to be doing anyway, or just because there's a law there that you don't like," he said. Speaking of the health-care law that undergoes a major expansion on Tuesday, he said "That funding is already in place. You can't shut it down."
Some Republicans balked. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia said it felt as if Republicans were retreating, given their diminishing demands, and Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia said there was not unanimity when the rank and file met.
Yet there was also public dissent from the GOP strategy that has been carried out at the insistence of lawmakers working in tandem with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa„ said he was willing to vote for stand-alone legislation that would keep the government running and contained no health-care provisions.
Other Republicans sought to blame Democrats for any shutdown, but Dent conceded that Republicans would bear the blame, whether or not they deserved it.
Hours before the shutdown, the Senate voted 54-46 to reject the House-passed bill 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.
In response, House Republicans sought different concessions in exchange for allowing the government to remain open. They called for a one-year delay in a requirement in the health-care law for individuals to purchase coverage.
The same measure also would require members of Congress and their aides as well as the president, vice president and the administration's political appointees to bear the full cost of their own coverage by barring the government from making the customary employer contribution.
"This is a matter of funding the government and providing fairness to the American people," said Boehner. "Why wouldn't members of Congress vote for it?"
The vote was 228-201, with a dozen Republicans opposed and nine Democrats in favor.
Unimpressed, Senate Democrats swatted it on a 54-46 party line vote an hour later.
The impact of a shutdown would be felt unevenly.
Many low-to-moderate- income borrowers and first- time homebuyers seeking government-backed mortgages could face delays, and Obama said veterans' centers would be closed.
About 800,000 federal workers, many already reeling from the effect of automatic budget cuts, were ordered to report to work Tuesday for about four hours — but only to carry out shut- down-related chores.
Some critical services such as patrolling the borders and inspecting meat will continue. Social Security benefits will be sent, and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor will continue to pay doctors and hospitals.
U.S. troops were shielded from any damage to their wallets when Obama signed legislation assuring the military would be paid in the in the event of a shutdown.
CHRISTMAS EVENT:NAMING DISPUTE
An effort to end Tulsa's Christmas parade wars has come up short.
Two years ago, a group unhappy that the name Christmas had been dropped from the traditional downtown holiday season parade organized its own parade, called the Tulsa Christmas Parade.
It was held at the Tulsa Hills Shopping Center in 2011 and 2012 at the same time as the Downtown Parade of Lights. Both parades drew large crowds.
This year, Josh McFarland, one of the chief organizers of the Tulsa Hills event,
joined the board of directors of the downtown parade in an effort to combine the parades.
"We have often wondered about how awesome an event we could put on if we could combine our sponsors, volunteers, participants and spectators," McFarland said.
He said he agreed to combine efforts when the downtown group met his only demand, that the word Christmas be put back into the title of the downtown parade.
As he understands it, he said, the parade will be called the Tulsa Downtown Parade of Lights, with a subtitle: a celebration of Christmas, Ha- nukkah and other holidays.
"I don't care, as long as the word Christmas is in the title," he said.
But everyone in the Tulsa Hills group was not on board, and Tulsa will still have two parades.
Organizer Mark Croucher said he and Eddie Huff are again putting together the Tulsa Christmas Parade at Tulsa Hills.
"I'm glad that they put Christmas back in the title, but it's still not a Christmas parade.
"I'm doing this because what people want is a Christmas parade, not a holiday parade, not a parade of lights," he said.
Unlike the last two years, the parades will be on different days. The Christmas Parade will be at 6 p.m. Dec. 7, and the Downtown Parade of Lights will be at 6 p.m. Dec. 14.
Larry Fox, chairman and director of the downtown parade, said the goal was to have one parade.
"Our hope was that there would be one parade, that they would join with Josh," he said.
McFarland said he did not see the need for the second parade.
"We got what we wanted, so I wanted to help support one parade for Tulsa," he said. "I don't think when you ask for something, and the other side agrees to compromise, that you should continue. That's like running up the score."
Christmas was dropped from the name of the downtown parade in 2009, the last year that American Electric Power-Public Service Company of Oklahoma was the major sponsor.
No one noticed that first year.
Fox has said the name was changed to open up the event to people who do not celebrate Christmas. Jewish and Muslim communities have participated.
Organizers of the 78th annual downtown parade are accepting applications for floats, marching bands and other participants. Applications are due Oct. 25. Forms and other information are available at tulsaholidaypa- rade.com or by calling 918- 292-2157 or 918-808-1138.
For information about participating in the Tulsa Hills parade, call Croucher at 918- 583-2345.
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398
The Tulsa World's new website launches today, and there are several new features that will add to the most comprehensive coverage of local news you can find.
Among the changes you will see are a video player at tulsaworldTV.com, "Community" pages devoted to suburban cities in the area, daily deals from local businesses and more.
The site's launch is set for 11 a.m.,and the transition is expected to last a few hours, which means some people will see the new site earlier than others. We expect it to be a smooth process and our staff will be ready to address any issues that might arise.
The site will have new navigation. You can find the stories you want quickly, and pages have been redesigned to be grouped by topic. If you want to see our movie coverage, you'll find it easily on the Scene page. If you're looking for high school sports, you can find it fast on Sports Extra. On the home page, the latest news headlines from the top stories will be packaged in an easy-to-read format.
We'll also have websites devoted to coverage of 10 cities in the area. Bartlesville, Bixby, Broken Arrow, Catoosa, Claremore, Glenpool, Jenks, Owasso, Sand Springs and Sapulpa will have their own sites devoted to news, sports and more.
Tulsa World Community sites
We have reporters and correspondents covering them all. We'll also count on you to let us know what's happening in those communities. If you want to share a story, a photo or submit an event to our calendar, we've made it easy for you to do it. Click on the Communities tab at the top of the home page to see what's happening in your neighborhood.
Our new video player, tul- saworldTV.com, will feature hundreds of videos a day, on channels that make finding them easy. You can watch videos from our award-winning staff on local news events or get analysis. You also will find videos on the biggest stories from around the country and the world.
We will have new apps for your phone and tablet. They will be available soon in the Apple and Android app stores. You can delete our current Tulsa World apps, because they will stop working Tuesday. We will make an announcement once the new apps are available.
When you view tulsaworld. com on your smartphone, you will see an optimized mobile site. It will include easy navigation to find all the content.
The e-edition is redesigned so you can better view the day's pages of the newspaper online. The pages are larger to read and you can search for keywords. The e-edition will include a six-month archive if you want to read an old edition.
The new site is just the beginning. As soon as it launches, we'll be trying to make it better, and we want to know what you think. Tell us what you like and what you don't. Our Web editor is Jason Col- lington, and you can email him at jason.collington@tul- saworld.com.
While federal officials continued public assurances that online enrollment in the Affordable Care Act would open as planned Tuesday, the president of one insurer said
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Medicare and Medicaid Services) systems are down, so there is no testing that is taking place," Todd told the Tulsa World late Monday.
"We have gotten very limited testing done. We have not been able to see all of our plans in terms of what someone will see if they go on the website, and the subsidy calculator, which is a big part of the health-care law,... we understand is not available."
The law is designed to provide subsidies for people with household incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $11,490 to $45,960 for a single person.
Oklahoma is one of 36 states where the federal government will either run or help run exchanges, which are websites where consumers can compare and enroll in health insurance plans. Federally operated exchanges are set to open for enrollment Tuesday.
Todd said CommunityCare has also has raised concerns with federal and state officials over what it believes are wide variations in benefits among companies. Deductibles offered in CommunityCare's plans and those offered by "the state's largest insurer" are dramatically different at some levels, he said.
"We understood that although they wouldn't be identical," benefits for plans within the same category would be similar, he said.
"What we've been able to pretty well substantiate is that deductibles will vary in the silver category from $2,000 to over $6,000."
Todd emphasized that CommunityCare has received no explanation from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services about the website problems or the differing deductibles and that there may be explanations for both.
"We have raised that concern with CMS and are awaiting a response from them. We have not seen that variation in any other state we have looked at."
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, which is the state's largest insurer, responded Monday night that CMS has approved the plans it is offering.
The law is designed to offer coverage at four levels — bronze, silver, gold and platinum — and at a catastrophic level for some people. The plans are supposed to pay between 60 percent and 90 percent of the cost of health care depending on which level consumers choose.
Todd said that if the wide variation in deductibles is allowed to go forward, "it's going to be a potentially unfair result for Oklahomans."
Federal officials could not be reached for comment on the issues raised by Todd late Monday.
In statements issued earlier Monday, CMS said that regardless of a government shutdown, enrollment would open for insurance plans under the health-care law as planned Tuesday. Spending for the exchange is mandatory spending, and the system would not be affected by any disruption in government funding, a spokeswoman said.
Rick Kelly, divisional vice president of network management at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, said the company's employees are "ready to take questions and field calls and help people as they go through this process."
"It's a process that is going to take a little bit of time, but hopefully at the end of that we will be able to get more Okla homans insured," Kelly said.
Oklahoma ranks No. 5 nationally in the number of uninsured residents, with about 650,000 people lacking health insurance.
Kelly said people shopping for health coverage should study the network of medical providers before purchasing an insurance plan.
In the Tulsa area, Blue Cross Blue Shield will offer plans under its Blue Choice network, which has 14,000 providers, as well as a more limited network of providers for plans with lower monthly premiums, he said.
When asked about technical problems with the federal exchange, Kelly said he doesn't know what to expect.
"This is a massive undertaking, and I think there's no doubt that there will be a few bumps along the road and everybody is just going to need to work with each other."
Both Kelly and Todd said that regardless of any initial technical problems, consumers should remember that they have until Dec. 15 to sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1. Those who don't have health insurance have until March 31 to obtain it or be subject to a fine.
People who have health insurance through their jobs or through federal programs such as Medicare are already in compliance with the law's requirement to have insurance and don't need to take any action.
Kelly said enrolling in plans under the exchange requires preparation. Consumers will need documents such as proof of household income, proof of citizenship and details on insurance offered by employers.
"I think consumers need to take their time and go to the exchange and do their research and make the best decision they can for themselves and their family. For a lot of people that will probably mean they need to spend more than a day on it.
"It's a very important decision and one they need to step through and make sure they educate themselves and make the right choice."
Ziva Bransteter 918-581-8306
Affordable Care Act resources
To enroll in health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, log onto healthcare.gov. The site has a list of health insurance "navigators" who can help you enroll. You also can call 800-318-2596 for more information.
All insurance brokers and agents in Oklahoma are licensed to help consumers select insurance plans.
Insurers offering coverage under the law in Oklahoma have more information about plans they are offering on their websites:Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma:reformandyouok. com
CommunityCare:ccok .comAetna:aetna.comCoventry:coventryhealth- care.com
PART 3 OF 3
It's evening on Friday, Sept. 9, 2011, at Forward Operating Base Zormat in the Paktia province of Afghanistan.
Even though he's now safe back inside the wire of this rugged combat outpost, Oklahoma Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Duane Kellogg is still afraid. Three of his men are dead. Two are seriously wounded. Kellogg knows he is responsible. He worries that the 200 other members of Alpha Company will be angry. They will blame him. They will criticize decisions he'd made just hours before that got good men killed.
Sept. 9, 2011, was the Oklahoma Army National Guard's bloodiest day since the Korean War. This is the third in a three- part series by The Oklahoman focusing on what happened on that day, the investigation that followed and the aftermath.