Protesters hold placards urging the US Congress to end the federal government shutdown, on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, yesterday. With the shutdown in its ninth day and a potential economy-shaking federal default edging ever closer, neither side showed any sign of an agreement.
WASHINGTON: Tourism sagged near US national parks, Washington-area workers filed more unemployment claims and futures markets grappled with a lack of data as the government shutdown, now in its second week, stretched across the nation and upset many aspects of American life.
Americans are fed up with the political deadlock and frustrated with how the federal government shutdown is interfering with everything from hunting season to weddings and even military funerals.
The congressional approval rating dropped to 11 percent in a Gallup poll published on Monday — just one point away from an all-time low hit last year.
A whopping 70 percent of those surveyed by Gallup in the first few days of the budget impasse said the shutdown was a “major” problem or crisis, significantly higher than the 56 percent who thought so at the height of the last government shutdown in 1995.
With no end in sight as the shutdown drags into its second week, the media is rife with stories of people impacted by the loss of services not deemed “essential.”
There were the World War II veterans turned away from an outdoor memorial that’s usually accessible at any hour of the day or night. The sick and dying children who couldn’t enter experimental drug trials at the National Institute of Health.
The tearful brides whose weddings were cancelled after national parks were closed. The desperate parents whose federally-funded day care centres were closed. The salmonella outbreak which struck while food inspectors and disease trackers were on furlough.
And the latest outrage: A report said that the families of four soldiers and one Marine killed in Afghanistan over the weekend will not receive a $100,000 ‘death gratuity’ aimed at helping them cover funeral costs and make ends meet until survivor benefits kick in.
“If Congress were trapped in a car that sunk down in a river, I would swim to the window, and I would look them all in the eye and say, ‘Suck water’,” Randall Patterson — whose son Cody Patterson, 24, was among those killed — told NBC news.
Some 28 percent of Americans said they were “personally inconvenienced” by the shutdown, according to a Pew survey published on Monday.
The survey found that a majority of Republicans (54 percent) and Democrats (58 percent) believe it would be “unacceptable” for their side to back down and either pass a budget which leaves President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law intact or accept changes to the law.
On the national seashores along North Carolina’s Outer Banks islands, business owners compared the financial magnitude of closed beaches and waterways to that of a hurricane-forced evacuation. Scott Geib, who sells photographs near the closed Cape Hatteras lighthouse, said sales were way down last week from what would normally be a good week for him in early fall.
Foreign visitors are few and far between at Rod’s Steak House in Williams, Arizona, near the Grand Canyon, owner Larry Sanchez said. Business fell off about 25 percent by the end of the first week the park was closed, he said.
At remote Grand Canyon National Park, where thousands of restaurant, hotel and other workers went without pay, a Phoenix food bank delivered about 600 boxes of food to workers. “We got a call for help,” said Beverly Damore, chief executive of the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance.
In Alaska, Senator Lisa Murkowski said hunters are barred from federal lands, placing their year’s supply of game meat in jeopardy. “This is hunting season. This is when Alaskans are filling their freezers for winter,” Murkowski, said during a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.
Safety personnel and other federal employees deemed “essential” have been working without pay since the shutdown began, but hundreds of thousands of other workers were sent home. Lawmakers have discussed authorising back pay after the shutdown ends, but it is not clear if that would apply only to “essential” staff.
Maureen O’Connor, public information officer for the Maryland labour department, said about 16,000 furloughed employees had sought unemployment benefits in the state as of Sunday night. They would have to repay the benefits if lawmakers wind up approving back pay for furloughed workers.
Meanwhile, Obama announced plans to invite all Republican and Democratic lawmakers to the White House to talk about the bitter impasse which shut the government and could throw the United States into default.
Obama will begin the process by meeting minority Democrats from the House of Representatives, a White House official said. Republicans in the House and members of both parties in the Senate will be invited in for talks “in the coming days,” the official said.
The meetings come as Washington lurches close to an October 17 deadline to raise the US government’s statutory borrowing limit. Failure to do so could see the United States default on its obligations for the first time in its history and spark what the White House warns will be dire economic consequences which could spread around the globe.
Obama refuses to negotiate with Republicans on budget issues until the debt limit is lifted and the government is reopened. Republican House Speaker John Boehner will not take either step until Obama offers concessions to his House Republican caucus.