The U.S. government began a partial shutdown on Tuesday (October 1) for the first time in 17 years, potentially putting up to 1 million workers on unpaid leave, closing national parks and stalling medical research projects.

Federal agencies were directed to cut back services after lawmakers could not break a political stalemate that sparked new questions about the ability of a deeply divided Congress to perform its most basic functions.

After House Republicans floated a late offer to break the logjam, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rejected the idea, saying Democrats would not enter into formal negotiations on spending "with a gun to our head" in the form of government shutdowns.

After missing the midnight (0400 GMT) deadline to avert the shutdown, Republicans and Democrats in the House continued a bitter blame game, each side shifting responsibility to the other in efforts to redirect a possible public backlash.

"The agencies of government are in the process of closing down. It now appears that Congress is not going to do anything to keep the government from shutting down. They've got some jerry-rigged thing about going to conferences. Madam President it is embarrassing that these people who are elected to represent the country are representing the Tea Party -- the anarchists of the country and the majority of the Republicans in the House are following every step of the way," Reid said.

"The House has made its position known very clearly. We believe that we should fund the government and we think there ought to be basic fairness for all Americans under Obamacare. The Senate has continued to reject our offers. But under the Constitution, there is a way to resolve this process, and that is to go to conference and talk through your differences. And I would hope that the Senate would accept our offer to go to conference and discuss this so we can resolve this for the American people," House speaker John Boehner said.

The political dysfunction at the Capitol also raised fresh concerns about whether Congress can meet a crucial mid-October deadline to raise the government's $16.7 trillion debt ceiling.

With an eye on the 2014 congressional elections, both parties tried to deflect responsibility for the shutdown. President Barack Obama accused Republicans of being too beholden to Tea Party conservatives in the House of Representatives and said the shutdown could threaten the economic recovery.

The political stakes are particularly high for Republicans, who are trying to regain control of the Senate next year. Polls show they are more likely to be blamed for the shutdown, as they were during the last shutdown in 1996.

Presented by Adam Justice

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