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September 17, 2014

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US government shutdown starts to make itself felt

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Carolyn Kaster / AP

Robert Olson, a Korean War veteran from Iowa, third from left, is pushed in his wheelchair by Zach Twedt, also from Iowa, fourth from left around the National World War II Memorial, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 in Washington. Veterans who had traveled from across the country were allowed to visit the National World War II Memorial after it had been officially closed because of the partial government shutdown. After their visit, the National World War II Memorial was closed again.

Government Shutdown

Resa Mestel, of New York, reacts after finding the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, N.C.,   closed due to the government shutdown Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. In the wake of a partial shutdown of the U.S. government, the National Park Service began closing down parks and other facilities until federal funding is restored. Launch slideshow »

PHILADELPHIA — Visitors arrived to find "CLOSED" signs at the Statue of Liberty, the Smithsonian and other parks and historic sites across the country. Callers looking for help from the government reached only voicemail. And federal employees were left to wonder when they would return to work.

The first government shutdown in 17 years took hold Tuesday in ways large and small.

About 800,000 federal employees were sent home — a number greater than the combined U.S. workforces of Target, General Motors, Exxon and Google.

"After next week if we're not working, I'm going to have to find a job," said Robert Turner, a building mechanic at the Smithsonian's American History museum in the nation's capital. He was called in for part of the day to take out the trash, turn off the water and help close up the place.

The effects played out in a variety of ways, from scaled-back operations at federal prosecutors' offices and the FBI to revoked permits for dozens of weddings at historic sites in Washington. Campers at national parks were given two days to pack up and leave, and some parks were entirely closed to traffic.

In Philadelphia, Paul Skilling of Northern Ireland had wanted to see the Liberty Bell up close but had to settle instead for looking at the symbol of democracy through glass.

And he wasn't optimistic about the chances of visiting any landmarks in Washington, the next stop on a weekslong visit.

"Politics is fantastic, isn't it?" he said ruefully.

In New York, tourists who hoped to see the Statue of Liberty were instead offered an hour harbor cruise.

"There has to be better ways to run the government than to get to a standstill like this," said Cheryl Strahl, a disappointed visitor from Atascadero, Calif. "Why take it out on the national parks?"

The government closings did not stop the launch on Tuesday of the enrollment period for the online insurance marketplaces established under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul — the program at the very heart of the dispute that produced the shutdown.

The two federal employees in orbit around the Earth — NASA astronauts Karen Nyberg and Michael Hopkins — carried on as usual aboard the International Space Station, with essential employees at Mission Control in Houston supporting the lab and its six inhabitants.

There were no TV or web updates, however, as most of NASA's workforce was furloughed.

Anglers headed to the highly anticipated first day of the fall fishing season on North Carolina's Outer Banks found they could not drive onto the beach at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Dozens of goats were taken off ivy-eating duty at Fort Hancock, a recreation area in Sandy Hook, N.J. A KKK rally planned for the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania this weekend was canceled.

In the nation's capital, fountains were being turned off on the National Mall and the National Zoo closed. Its beloved panda-cam went dark.

But hundreds of veterans from Iowa and Mississippi walked past barricades at the National World War II Memorial after members of Congress cut the police tape for them.

The IRS suspended audits for the duration of the shutdown, and call centers were left unmanned. In St. Paul, Minn., the voicemail warned callers they "should file and pay their taxes as normal."

The 12 million people who got six-month extensions must still file their returns by Oct. 15. But the agency will not issue tax refunds until the government resumes normal operations.

Scolforo reported from Harrisburg, Pa. Associated Press writers Thomas J. Sheeran in Valley View, Ohio; Mitch Weiss in Charlotte, N.C.; Jill Zeman Bleed in Little Rock, Ark.; Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Minn.; Brett Zongker, Stephen Ohlemacher and Jessica Gresko in Washington; Marcia Dunn in Cape Canav

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