Shutdown Bars Statue of Liberty Testing Monk’s Serenity
As a Buddhist monk, Ashon Nyanuttara suppresses anger and frustration. Even so, he said he was disappointed on arriving in New York’s Battery Park yesterday only to learn that Statue of Liberty tours were canceled.
“This is no good for public, especially tourists,” said Nyanuttara, 30, who is visiting from Myanmar, or Burma. “This is an American symbol. The government should keep it open.”
National parks such as Liberty Island were closed in the first U.S. government shutdown in 17 years after the Republican-led House of Representatives and the Democratic-run Senate couldn’t agree on spending bills before the fiscal year began.
The closures upended tourists’ plans and forced about 800,000 federal workers to take unpaid time off until the impasse is resolved. The partial shutdown will cost the nation at least $300 million a day in lost output, according to IHS Inc. (IHS) analysts. Employees came to work to secure files, post closed signs on doors and change voice-mail messages to inform callers they wouldn’t be available until further notice.
Jeanette Joyner, an Army budget analyst who survived the 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, left her office yesterday braced for the uncertainty to come after getting a furlough notice. She was one of an estimated 400,000 civilian defense workers who were forced to take unpaid leave.
While the pain of a lost paycheck won’t be easy to absorb, she said she has been through worse.
“My office took a direct hit,” Joyner, 45, said of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in which American Airlines Flight 77 rammed the Pentagon. “If I can survive 9/11 and come back to this building, I can survive this.”
In Monroeville, Pennsylvania, Patti Weaver encouraged Republicans to hold fast.
“I believe the most important thing is to protect the American economy from Obamacare,” Weaver, who is the business manager of her husband’s medical practice, said in a telephone interview. “The long-term health of the economy is far more important than a shutdown,” Weaver said.
U.S. military forces remained at their stations worldwide and vital services, such as flight controllers and Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security benefit payments, were unaffected.
In one of the more dramatic responses to the shutdown, a group of 91 veterans from Mississippi pushed past barricades set up on Washington’s National Mall to view the World War II Memorial. A sign on the fence read “Because of the Federal Government SHUTDOWN, All National Parks Are CLOSED.”
The veterans walked or were pushed in wheelchairs to see the column for Mississippi. Park Police stood by, watching.
“This is ridiculous,” said Tom Bratner, 89, who served as a Seabee on Guam in 1944. “I hate the Republicans. They’re pulling all kinds of stuff trying to hold hostage things like this.”
Administrators of the National Park Service’s National Mall and Memorials Parks had a sympathetic view, a spokeswoman said.
“It’s hard for us to see people not be let in,” Carol Johnson, the spokeswoman, told reporters. “This memorial was built for them. And the last thing we want to is keep them from seeing it.”
Later yesterday, Johnson began her own unpaid leave because of the shutdown.
Some Republicans who had voted for legislation to defund President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, known widely as Obamacare, setting up the showdown with Democrats, visited with the veterans. Iowa Representative Steve King talked with a group from his state.
Little progress was made on Capitol Hill, however, to reach a budget agreement to fund many government-run services.
The shutdown was felt as far away as France, where Zack Paris was traveling with family. The group had planned a trip to Normandy to pay their respects to the soldiers killed by Nazis during World War II’s D-Day invasion. The cemetery for fallen Americans was closed, as it is managed by a U.S. commission shuttered by the impasse in Congress.
“Here we thought we were escaping from the tumult happening in Washington and were hit smack in the face” by it, Paris, 65, of Shaker Heights, Ohio, said by telephone.
Furloughs affected about 70 percent of the U.S. intelligence community’s civilian workforce, according to a notice sent to Congress. Analysts and support personnel have been kept off their jobs.
Few if any operational intelligence officers -- those whose duties include working under cover to recruit agents, steal other nations’ secrets or conduct eavesdropping -- are directly affected, according to two intelligence officials who asked not to be identified speaking about sensitive matters. In some cases, an unexpected absence may raise suspicions about those working under cover of false identities, particularly for those posing as employed by business or civilian agencies, they said.
“The fraction of intelligence community employees who remain on the job will be stretched to the limit and forced to focus only on the most critical security needs,” said Shawn Turner, a spokesman for James Clapper, the national intelligence director. Turner said U.S. agencies’ “ability to identify threats and provide information for a broad set of national security decisions will be diminished for the duration.”
In Columbus, Georgia, city officials worried about the effect on the local economy of 4,000 civilian employees furloughed at Fort Benning, a U.S. Army base.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said the shutdown may cost her community $6.2 million in economic activity each week. Analysts in Lexington, Massachusetts, at IHS, a global market researcher, estimated a 0.2 percentage point cut in U.S. fourth-quarter by a week-long shutdown. Tomlinson said the shutdown is causing people in Columbus to lose trust in the government and making them “bitter.”
The leafy campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, was largely quiet yesterday, as workers had been told last week whether they would be furloughed in the event of a shutdown of nonessential services.
Phil Young, a graduate fellow at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration who is researching allergies at NIH, said he’ll continue to receive his stipend even though the shutdown left hi with no work to do. “This is an educational experience for me,” said Young, 24, who lives in Bethesda. “When I can’t come to the lab, I just miss out.”
Young said he usually works about 40 to 50 hours a week at NIH. Yesterday, he said, “I’m going home.”
NIH runs a hospital and oversees research on such subjects as cancer, heart disease and the human genome. Yesterday, 73 percent of its 18,646 workers were forced to take unpaid leave. Most of those who were on the job provided care to patients and laboratory animals and safeguarded medical experiments already under way, according to the agency.
The shutdown halted all basic research, work on grant applications and new admissions to the hospital. Grant funds already awarded remain available to recipients, NIH said.
The shutdown left the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with an impaired ability to monitor and track diseases and make routine laboratory inspections, said Barbara Reynolds, a spokeswoman.
Out of 13,000 employees, 9,000 were handed furloughs, Reynolds said. “What we see this shutdown doing is hurting our ability to find threats.”
Other agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission, shut down website access. The Internal Revenue Service closed call centers and the Environmental Protection Agency kept about 90 percent of employees out on unpaid leave.
Darius Sakalas, 19, was turned away from the Social Security Administration’s Manhattan field office yesterday without the duplicate identity card he must bring to the environmental group Greenpeace to begin a full-time fundraising job. It will take a week for his original Social Security card to reach him in Brooklyn from his old home in Arizona.
“I hope I can negotiate something with them,” he said of his new employer.
In Washington, Canden Schwantes said her DC By Foot business will suffer from the shutdown even as 14 people had booked a tour.
Four school groups have canceled already for the coming days, Schwantes said.
“It doesn’t matter if they reopen,” she said. “Those tours have already canceled. I’m out of a week of income.”
The tour normally goes into both the Library of Congress and the Capitol Visitors’ Center, both of which were closed yesterday. Instead, Schwantes was leading tourists outside the Senate and House office buildings, to the site of a George Washington home, and the Japanese-American Memorial.
Back at New York’s Battery Park, Bette Rosenzveig, 68, said the month she spent training to walk up the 354 steps in the Statue of Liberty was now wasted because Washington lawmakers couldn’t reach a deal. The Decatur, Georgia, resident put the blame squarely on Republicans.
“They’re bullies,” Rosenzveig said. “Once you’re elected, you have a responsibility to the whole country.”
She said she would try to change reservations to visit Liberty Island in hopes that “the government comes to its senses by Friday.”
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