Magazine article The New Yorker

Washington Dramas

Magazine article The New Yorker

Washington Dramas

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON DRAMAS

Around the National Mall in Washington last week, signs of the government shutdown were unavoidable. Some were actual signs, like the ones posted in front of museums and monuments that are free and open almost every day of the year, saying those sites were now closed "due to the federal government shutdown." Outside the National Air and Space Museum, a family of Japanese tourists took pictures of one another standing by the sign. Solitary joggers replaced the noisy busloads of kids who would ordinarily be swarming the Mall. The Library of Congress was closed; even its Web site was shut down. The Capitol police weren't being paid, but they were on duty, and, fortunately, the crowds were sparser than usual when, on Thursday afternoon, a driver who had rammed a barricade outside the White House led police on a high-speed chase. "The timing on this was really kind of scary," Representative Blake Farenthold, of Texas, said. "Capitol Hill police are at a lower personnel level because of the shutdown."

Farenthold was one of the Republican representatives of the Tea Party who had supported the shutdown in order to defund Obamacare, and he wasn't the only one who seemed to be having at least a few second thoughts about how it was looking to the public. Republicans had already begun to introduce measures that would temporarily fund and reopen the museums, monuments, and national parks, so photogenic in their forlorn inaccessibility. There was a rather unseemly sideshow at the memorial to the Second World War, where Republican representatives turned up to personally inform elderly visiting veterans that it was President Obama's fault that the memorial was closed. The chair of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, later offered to use R.N.C. funds to open the memorial, claiming that the Administration was keeping "the Greatest Generation away from a monument built in their honor." You could deny eight hundred thousand federal employees their paychecks, you could cripple entire agencies, but close the war memorial? The National Park Service declined the offer, because, as a spokesperson explained, "we are a national system." The park service could hardly pick favorites--opening the memorial for the Second World War but not for the Vietnam War, opening Yellowstone but not Yosemite--and it shouldn't be asked to.

What the Republican intransigents were willing to deprive of funds, besides the Capitol police, included the following: The Centers for Disease Control, which said that it would have to stop its seasonal flu-prevention program and would "have significantly reduced capacity to respond to outbreak investigations." The Environmental Protection Agency, which would close down almost entirely, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which would stop most of its inspections. The WIC program, which provides healthy food supplements for millions of pregnant women, new mothers, and babies, and could run on temporary federal funds only through the end of the month. The Food and Drug Administration, which said it "will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities," and would have to halt "the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making. …

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