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Political deadlock drags on as Americans feel effects of government shutdown

October 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Ripples from the government shutdown were felt across the nation, from the 800,000 furloughed employees forced off the job, to disappointed tourists confronting closed national parks. Back in Washington, the political deadlock continued with neither House Republicans nor Senate Democrats ready to budge. Kwame Holman reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Our lead story tonight: Much of the federal government was dark after Congress failed to agree on a stopgap funding bill.

Republicans refused to budge on their demands to delay parts of the president’s health care law. Democrats remained adamantly opposed to those demands.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

KWAME HOLMAN: The effects of the shutdown were widespread and immediate. In Washington this morning, the Lincoln Memorial, overseen by the National Park Service, was closed to visitors.

MIKE LITTERST, National Park Service: At this point, we don’t know how long this is going to go on for.

KWAME HOLMAN: Park service spokesman Mike Litterst lamented that the pain of a shutdown will be felt by many.

MIKE LITTERST: We’re not talking about the inconvenience of a — of a few hundred people here and there. There are tens of thousands of people whose vacation plans and visits to these historic and national sites are being impacted; 715,000 people a day in the month of October would be expected to visit national parks, and, again, the ripple effect goes out into the surrounding communities to the tune of $76 million.

KWAME HOLMAN: Among those turned away, a tour bus full of retirees on a 13-state trip.

JAMES CLARK, tourist: It ruined the trip for everybody on the bus, you know? And these trips, we look forward to.

BARBARA EDWARDS, tourist: I’m 75, and I probably won’t be back, so this is really a disappointment. And just — it just makes me sad.

KWAME HOLMAN: Across the country, all 401 National Park Service sites were shuttered, from the Statue of Liberty in New York…

WOMAN: Unfortunately, due to the government shutdown, we are officially closed.

KWAME HOLMAN: … to Muir Woods a few miles north of San Francisco.

CHIP CHAMBERLIN, tourist: It’s just a national — a national monument that we’re not able to see, and it’s just disappointing. I can’t talk to my grandkids about it or my children about it because we’re not going to get to experience it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Back in Washington, other popular tourist sites also shut their doors, including the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo, where the popular Panda Cam went dark.

Activities deemed essential, such as Border Patrol and air traffic control, continued, as did military, law enforcement and intelligence operations. Last night, President Obama signed a bill that guarantees active-duty military personnel will be paid regardless.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Your talents and dedication help keep our military the best in the world.

KWAME HOLMAN: On the other hand, some 800,000 civilian federal employees were forced off the job.

J. David Cox is head of the American Federation of Government Employees.

J. DAVID COX, American Federation of Government Employees: I actually prefer to call it a government lockout because employees are being locked out of their job. Our members want to go to work today. They want to serve the American public. 

KWAME HOLMAN: But for those told to stay home, there were shutdown-themed events that offered everything from political ping-pong to free food. The shutdown’s effects even reached the Capitol, where some staffers were furloughed and hearings postponed.

But lawmakers remained at loggerheads over how to break the stalemate. Overnight, House Republicans passed yet another funding bill with anti-Obamacare provisions and called for negotiations with the Senate. That, too, went nowhere.

MAN: On this, the ayes are 54 and the nays are 46.

KWAME HOLMAN: Shortly after gaveling in this morning, the Democratic-controlled Senate quickly rejected that measure on a straight party-line vote. Majority Leader Harry Reid said blame for the shutdown rests entirely with House Republicans.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: The government is closed because of the irrationality of what’s going on, on the other side of the Capitol. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.

KWAME HOLMAN: On the House floor, Speaker John Boehner pointed the finger at Democrats, saying they were unwilling to negotiate.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: My goodness, they won’t even sit down and have a discussion about this. Our country has big problems. Today, our government has big problems. The only way these problems are going to be resolved, if we sit down amicably and keep the American people in mind and come to an agreement.

KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, the president insisted again there will be no agreement unless House Republicans stop attaching items such as changes to his health care law, which began enrolling uninsured Americans today.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I urge House Republicans to reopen the government, restart the services Americans depend on, and allow the public servants who have been sent home to return to work. This is only going to happen when Republicans realize they don’t get to hold the entire economy hostage over ideological demands.

KWAME HOLMAN: As the day wore on, there was talk of the House passing small, targeted measures to reopen parts of the government, including the national parks. The White House immediately dismissed the idea, saying it showed an utter lack of seriousness.

With both sides unmoving, it remained impossible to predict when the deadlock might end.