Shutdown would close parks, crimp paychecks

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 08, 2011 1:39 PM

By Alistair Bell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Garbage will pile up in the streets of the capital, the Statue of Liberty will close and families of soldiers at war could struggle to pay the bills if Congress fails to reach a budget deal and the government shuts down this weekend.

Government services that are deemed as nonessential run out of funding at midnight on Friday without an agreement between Republicans and Democrats on spending for the rest of the fiscal year.

If they cannot break a logjam in Congress, some 800,000 employees will be sent home without pay when federal agencies close indefinitely.

National parks will shut their gates and turn back tourists in the middle of their vacations. The famed Yosemite National Park in California tentatively plans to shut its gates at noon on Monday.

"There are thousands of people depending on this," said Commerce Department employee Trish Lister who did not know if she would be furloughed. "I'm not worried for myself but I am disgusted by the children in Congress, particularly the Tea Party," she said.

The White House and Congress were working furiously to break a deadlock and avoid a shutdown, after President Barack Obama and congressional leaders failed to reach a deal in late-night talks.

Republicans, encouraged by the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement, pushed for deep cuts in the spending bill. They say the government needs to slim down to close the fiscal deficit of $1.4 trillion. But Obama's Democrats say cuts that are too steep would hinder economic recovery.

A shutdown would be felt thousands of miles away by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and there could be a high political cost for the lawmakers who let it happen.

Military personnel will keep working but not receive their paychecks until the shutdown ends.

"They will get paid but it's a disruptive thing when you've got young military families trying to make ends meet, sometimes living from paycheck to paycheck," Republican Senator Jon Kyl said.

Downtown Washington will be a lot quieter next week if there's a shutdown. Government agencies and prime tourist sites like the Smithsonian Institution museums will close.

Unlike other U.S. cities, the capital is prohibited from spending local dollars in the event of a federal budget impasse.


The city will not collect garbage for the first week of a shutdown, although police and fire services will not be affected.

A group of Washington residents threatened to dump their garbage at House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's basement apartment in the city in the event of a shutdown. They warned of a protest on Saturday morning against the Republican lawmaker in a Facebook site named, "If Boehner shuts down the government I am taking my trash to his house."

Federal workers would be the worst affected. Unlike soldiers, they might never be reimbursed for the workdays they lose, although some agencies are expected to eventually pay federal employees who have to stay away from work.

Forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers said a week-long shutdown would cut roughly 0.2 of a percentage point from second quarter U.S. economic growth.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that voters would be split over whom to blame if the government does shut down. Thirty-seven percent would blame Republicans in Congress, 20 percent would blame Democrats and 20 percent would blame Obama. Seventeen percent would hold all of them responsible.

Some 30,000 FBI employees and agents out of 35,000 would remain on the job if there were a shutdown, the Justice Department said.

Unlike the last two shutdowns, both of which occurred in the 1990s, this one would take place during tax preparation and filing season. That would delay tax refunds to Americans who filed a paper -- rather than electronic -- tax return, which covers about 30 percent of the total number of returns.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)