Obama hits GOP 'ideological crusade' in shutdown; Republicans plan vote to open nat'l parks
Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Congress hung "Closed" signs on a big swath of the government Tuesday and sent home 800,000 workers in what President Barack Obama labeled an "ideological crusade" by GOP lawmakers determined to gut his health care law. On Capitol Hill, House Republicans answered with a bid to restart a few favored slices of government, including national parks, while still demanding concessions on health care.
Parks and monuments were the most visible casualty on the first day of the first partial government shutdown in more than a decade.
In Washington, barricades sprang up at the Lincoln Memorial and other monuments, and the National Park Service was turning off 45 fountains around the capital. National parks from Acadia in Maine to Denali in Alaska followed suit, as did many federal workplaces.
Agencies like NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency were virtually shuttered.
But people classified as essential government employees — such as air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents and most food inspectors — continued to work. So did members of the military and employees whose jobs are financed through fees, such as State Department workers who issue passports and visas.
With the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate at stalemate, it was unclear how long the shutdown would last, or whom the public would blame for unanswered phones and locked doors.
Obama immediately labeled it a "Republican shutdown." He said by closing much of government an out-of-control faction of House Republicans was putting the nation's fragile recovery at risk of an "economic shutdown."
"They've shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health care to millions of Americans," Obama said in a Rose Garden speech, surrounded by people he said were dependent on the new health law.
He called on lawmakers to pass a budget and end the shutdown, saying, "We're better than this."
On Capitol Hill, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., portrayed the situation as the fault of stubborn Democratic senators who refuse to consider the House's proposals for delaying "Obamacare."
"None of us want to be in a shutdown," Cantor, R-Va., told reporters. "And we're here to say to the Senate Democrats, 'come and talk to us."
House Republicans were trying a new strategy Tuesday, planning votes to reopen parts of the government. That includes opening parks and resuming speedier processing for claims for veterans benefits, and allowing the District of Columbia to collect garbage and pay for other city services with its own tax money. That was swiftly rejected by White House spokesman Jay Carney as "not a serious approach."
Meanwhile, the health care law itself remained unaffected Tuesday as enrollment opened for millions of people shopping for medical insurance.
Whether students shut out of Smithsonian museums or homebuyers wanting government-backed loans, some Americans already were filling the pinch and the effects were expected to spread.
More than a third of the federal civilian workforce was furloughed — equivalent to the combined workforce of Target, General Motors, Exxon and Google — and many do jobs that private businesses rely on.
"There has to be better ways to run the government than to get to a standstill like this," said Cheryl Strahl, who traveled from Atascadero, Calif., to take in New York City sites. She found the Statue of Liberty closed, despite its famous words of welcome.
"Why take it out on the parks?" Strahl asked. Many parks are too vast or wide-open to effectively close. A group of veterans who traveled to Washington to see the World War II memorial Tuesday made their way past barriers and police tape and onto its sweeping plaza.
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