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The nation is on the eve of its first government shutdown in 17 years as the congressional standoff over the Affordable Care Act comes to a head. Just after midnight on Sunday, the Republican-controlled House approved a bill tying continued government funding to a one-year delay of "Obamacare" and the repeal of a tax to pay for it. Hours later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to reopen the Senate to allow debate, setting up a likely rejection of the House bill today. That will then put it back on the House to pass a stand-alone funding bill without the "Obamacare" delay, or force a government shutdown at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday. On Sunday, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California blamed the Senate for the impasse.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher: "If this government shuts down, it is because the Senate, the Democrats who control the Senate, playing politics, want to shut down the government because they have refused to even consider the compromise that we have offered. This president negotiates with all kinds of despots and terrorist leaders. He won’t even negotiate with us."
If the shutdown occurs, more than 800,000 federal workers will face furloughs and millions more could be forced to work without pay. At a news conference Friday in Washington, President Obama said a shutdown would hurt the economy.
President Obama: "My message to Congress is this: Do not shut down the government. Do not shut down the economy. Pass a budget on time. Pay our bills on time. Refocus on the everyday concerns of the American people. Past shut downs have disrupted the economy, and this shutdown would, as well. It would throw a wrench into the gears of our economy at a time when those gears have gained some traction."
The prospect of a shutdown comes as Republicans and Democrats face a nearing deadline to increase the nation’s borrowing limit or risk a default on U.S. debts. Republicans had previously threatened to tie their bid for an "Obamacare" repeal to the debt ceiling vote.
President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke directly on Friday in the highest-level contact between the United States and Iran in decades. Obama made the announcement shortly after the conversation took place.
President Obama: "Just now I spoke on the phone with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. I reiterated to President Rouhani what I said in New York. While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution."
Obama said both he and Rouhani have directed aides to continue negotiations. Iran is seeking a resolution to the international standoff over its nuclear program in order to lift crippling U.S.-led sanctions.
The U.N. Security Council has approved a resolution to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. The measure came out of a U.S.-Russian agreement earlier this month after the White House threatened to launch military strikes on Syria, but later opened the door to a diplomatic solution. Bowing to Russian concerns, the measure does not authorize automatic military strikes if Syria fails to comply, saying a follow-up measure would be needed. After the vote, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the resolution’s approval.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "I am pleased that the Security Council has found the unity to address to most significant use of chemical weapons in decades. I welcome the commitment to safeguard and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. The United Nations stands ready to support this plan in every way possible."
Under the resolution, Syria will be forced to destroy its chemical production sites in November followed by its entire stockpile by the middle of next year. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will still seek to hold the Assad regime accountable for last month’s chemical attack in Ghouta.
Secretary of State John Kerry: "On-site inspections of the places that these weapons are stored will begin by November, and under the terms of this agreement those weapons will be removed and destroyed by the middle of next year. Our aim was also to hold the Assad regime publicly accountable for its horrific use of chemical weapons against its own people on August 21st. And this resolution makes clear that those responsible for this heinous act must be held accountable."
As the chemical weapons deal was approved, the United Nations also announced plans for a long-delayed international Syria peace conference in Geneva next month. Speaking to Italian television, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he will comply with the U.N.’s requirements.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: "We joined the international agreement for preventing the use and acquirement of chemical weapons before that resolution came to light. The main part of the Russian initiative based on our will to do so. So, it’s not about the resolution, actually; it’s about our will. Of course, we have the will because in 2003 we had proposed in the United Nations Security Council to get rid of those weapons in the Middle East, to have a chemical weapon-free zone in the Middle East. So, of course, we have to comply. This is our history, to comply with every treaty we sign."
In one of the latest violent incidents in Syria, at least 16 people were killed on Sunday when an air strike hit a high school in the rebel-controlled city of Raqqa. Most of the victims were students.
In Iraq, a string of bombings targeting mostly Shiite neighborhoods today has left 34 people dead and more than 150 wounded. At least 40 people were killed in Iraq on Sunday when a suicide bomber struck a Shiite funeral south of Baghdad. The violence brings Iraq’s death toll this month to over 800. This follows more than 800 killed last month and more than 1,000 killed in July. More than 6,000 people have been killed in Iraq since the start of the year.
At least 40 people died in Pakistan on Sunday when a car bomb hit a busy market in the city of Peshawar. Another 100 people were wounded. It was the third major attack in Peshawar over the past week, following a church bombing that killed 80 and another blast on a bus carrying government workers.
Up to 50 students were killed in Nigeria on Sunday when militants attacked a rural college. The victims were asleep in their dorms when gunmen believed to be from the Islamic rebel group Boko Haram opened fire. A Boko Haram attack on a highway earlier this month killed at least 142 people.
The Justice Department is filing suit against North Carolina today over the state’s new voting law. The lawsuit will challenge provisions forcing voters to present a government-issued photo ID at the polls, shrinking early voting by a week, eliminating same-day registration, and limiting provisional ballots cast outside a voter’s home precinct. The North Carolina measure was one the first set of voting restrictions passed by a state since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in June. Attorney General Eric Holder is also expected to seek a new ruling that would force North Carolina to receive pre-clearance for changes to its voting laws.