Shutdown woes pile up as Washington gridlock holds

WASHINGTON Tue Oct 8, 2013 6:14pm EDT

Park Ranger Joseph Darling directs visitors away from the entrance to the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway southwest of Asheville, North Carolina, October 4, 2013. REUTERS/Dillon Deaton/Asheville Citizen-Times/Handout via Reuters

Park Ranger Joseph Darling directs visitors away from the entrance to the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway southwest of Asheville, North Carolina, October 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Dillon Deaton/Asheville Citizen-Times/Handout via Reuters

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tourism sagged near U.S. 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.

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, a Republican, said during a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama called for "reasonable Republicans" to pass legislation to fund the government and end the pain for millions of tourists, workers and other Americans who rely on federally funded services.

On their part, congressional Republicans insist that any legislation to fund the government should also delay carrying out Obama's signature healthcare law. Democrats have refused to include changes to the law in a government-funding deal.

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 authorizing back pay after the shutdown ends, but it is not clear if that would apply only to "essential" staff.

The effects are being felt across the country, but the Washington area, home to thousands of federal workers, not surprisingly has been hit hard.

Moody's Investors Service said on Monday that it had a negative credit outlook for the Washington area because of the shutdown. Counties in Maryland could see income taxes hit, while sales taxes would dip in Virginia, Moody's said.

Maureen O'Connor, public information officer for the Maryland labor 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.

"The claims are coming in," O'Connor said. "There's a lot of overtime being coordinated to make sure our customer service is there for these folks."

RIPPLES WIDENING

Business leaders initially shrugged off the impact of a shutdown, pointing out that the bigger fireworks would come if Congress failed to raise the government's borrowing limit in mid-October.

Washington hung out the "closed for business" sign when federal funding ran out on October 1. Now, on the eighth day of the shutdown and with no agreement on spending in sight, the problems of the long-term shutdown are mounting.

The Agriculture Department could not issue vital data on sale prices for hogs and cattle around the nation, which caused trading volume to dwindle. The industry has searched for ways to replace the government data.

Hog farmers say USDA's daily price reports should have been considered essential services. "It gives producers an idea what they should be getting for hogs," said Dave Warner of the National Pork Producers Council.

Government contractors also have found themselves in tough spots. Humana Inc, which provides administrative services for military health care, said on Tuesday that it had been told to adhere to its contract for two weeks.

The federal government usually covers the cost of the actual health benefits, but Humana said it was told it would not be reimbursed during the shutdown period. That could leave the company on the hook for up to $175 million worth of health claims, Humana said.

The families of four U.S. soldiers killed by insurgents in Afghanistan on Sunday and a Marine who died there on Saturday will not receive the standard payment to help with funeral costs or financial hardships, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

SOME SPARED

Not everyone was hurting on Tuesday.

Boeing Co was likely relieved after the Federal Aviation Administration called back safety personnel from furloughs, allowing the manufacturer to continue deliveries of 787 Dreamliners from its South Carolina plant.

For those federal employees who did head in to work in Washington, typically crowded commuter routes have become much easier to navigate.

Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat, said during an event in Washington that his commute to Capitol Hill from Baltimore usually takes about 2-1/2 hours in traffic.

On Tuesday, Ruppersberger said the shutdown shaved an hour off his travel time.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson, additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein, Ros Krasny, Lisa Lambert, Charles Abbott, Phil Stewart, Andrea Shalal-Esa, Alina Selyukh, Caroline Humer and Alwyn Scott; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Jackie Frank)

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Comments (3)
MikeBarnett wrote:
Despite the harm to some Americans, the Shutdown is necessary for America’s future. It will allow the US to pay off more of its debt, and reduce the vast numbers of costly crimes that US regimes commit. For over a decade, US regimes have inflicted expensive damages on the US with their 2 major wars, one of which was illegal, their numerous illegal interventions, their intelligence crimes and treasons, their failures to recognize and address America’s real global threats, their failures to recognize America’s true allies in its current war, their underregulation that caused three economic crises, and their refusal to punish high ranking political, intelligence, and economic criminals and traitors. Some NATO allies have been able to work for years without complete governments that have allowed their civil servants to continue existing programs but prevented new programs during the past decade. US should examine and consider doing the same for a few years. This would force the US to reduce its spending sharply, remain within the new debt limit, keep the US out of default, (possibly) reduce its national debt, and keep most political criminals from making policies that plunge the US into more expensive follies. Support the Shutdown!

Oct 08, 2013 6:54pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
7glenn wrote:
In addition to all the damage that the Republican Shutdown is doing to America and Americans, it is a blatant attempt to deny adequate health coverage to tens of millions of Americans. Never in the history of this country have we had internal enemies as damaging as the extreme elements that now control the “GOP.” They are the worst enemies that ordinary people in this country have.

Oct 08, 2013 10:01pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
CountryPride wrote:
Just to show you how corrupt Obama and the Democrats are they will barricade and arrest elder war veterans from visiting open air memorial sites but they give special permission to hold illegal immigration rallies to the crimmigrant lobby at the National Mall. Veterans who fought for this country to protect our freedom go to HE*L, illegal foreign criminals who violate this countries sovereignty, defraud their way into society and rob the American taxpayer, you get special treatment to rally for your criminal rights! We must remove the psychopaths in Washington that allow this to happen!

Oct 09, 2013 4:51am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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