The US government was forced to begin closing swathes of non-essential services on Tuesday morning after frantic rounds of late night political sparring failed to avert the first federal shutdown in nearly two decades.
As a midnight deadline to extend Congressional spending authority ticked ever closer, Republicans staged a series of last-ditch efforts to use a once-routine budget procedure to force Democrats to abandon their efforts to extend US health insurance.
Three separate attacks on the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, were staged by the House of Representatives, only to be rejected in turn by the Democrat-controlled Senate, which accused Republicans of holding the country to ransom.
Shortly before midnight, Senate majority leader Harry Reid marked the end of the process by rejecting House calls for formal talks to reconcile their conflicting positions, arguing it was impossible to negotiate with a “gun to our heads”.
“This is a very serious time in the history of our country,” Reid said. “Millions of people are going to be affected tomorrow and the Republicans are still playing games”