US federal government shuts down for first time in 17 years

US federal government shuts down for first time in 17 years

WASHINGTON - The United States federal government shut down for the first time in 17 years on Tuesday, as Congress failed to end a bitter budget row after hours of dizzying brinkmanship.

Ten minutes before midnight, the White House budget office issued an order for many government departments to start closing down, triggering 800,000 furloughs of federal workers, and shutting tourists out of monuments like the Statue of Liberty, national parks and museums.

Prospects for a swift resolution were unclear and economists warned that the struggling US economic recovery could suffer if the shutdown drags on for more than just a few days.

Only workers deemed essential will be at their desks from Tuesday onwards, leaving government departments like the White House with skeletal staff.

Vital functions like mail delivery and air traffic control will continue as normal, however.

On a day of dysfunction and ugly rhetoric in the divided US political system, Republicans had repeatedly tied new government funding to attempts to defund, delay or dismantle President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

But each time their effort was killed by Obama's allies in the Democratic-led Senate, leaving the government in limbo when its money ran out at the end of the fiscal year at midnight Monday.

"This is an unnecessary blow to America," a somber Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor two minutes after the witching hour.

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