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What's changing, what's not, in a shutdown

Tuesday - 10/1/2013, 8:24pm  ET

A man walks past Independence Hall at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013 as the government teeters on the brink of a partial shutdown at midnight unless Congress can reach an agreement on funding. A conservative challenge to President Barack Obama's cherished health care law pushed the federal government to the brink of a partial shutdown Monday, with the Senate expected to convene just hours before a deadline to pass a temporary spending bill. If no compromise can be reached by midnight, Americans would soon see the impact: National parks would close. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
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CALVIN WOODWARD
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Campers in national parks are to pull up stakes and leave, some veterans waiting to have disability benefits approved will have to cool their heels even longer, many routine food inspections will be suspended and panda-cams will go dark at the shuttered National Zoo.

Those are among the immediate effects when parts of the government shut down Tuesday because of the budget impasse in Congress.

In this time of argument and political gridlock, a blueprint to manage federal dysfunction is one function that appears to have gone smoothly. Throughout government, plans are ready to roll out to keep essential services running and numb the impact for the public. The longer a shutdown goes on, the more it will be felt in day-to-day lives and in the economy as a whole.

A look at what is bound to happen, and what probably won't:

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THIS: Washington's paralysis will be felt early on in distant lands as well as in the capital -- namely, at national parks. All park services will close. Campers have 48 hours to leave their sites. Many parks, such as Yellowstone, will close to traffic, and some will become completely inaccessible. Smithsonian museums in Washington will close and so will the zoo, where panda cams record every twitch and cuddle of the panda cub born Aug. 23 but are to be turned off in the first day of a shutdown.

The Statue of Liberty in New York, the loop road at Acadia National Park in Maine, Skyline Drive in Virginia, and Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park, home of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, will be off limits. At Grand Canyon National Park, people will be turned back from entrance gates and overlooks will be cordoned off along a state road inside the park that will remain open.

"People who waited a year to get a reservation to go to the bottom of the Grand Canyon all of a sudden will find themselves without an opportunity to take that trip," said Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Park Service.

BUT NOT THIS: At some parks, where access is not controlled by gates or entrance stations, people can continue to drive, bike and hike. People won't be shooed off the Appalachian Trail, for example, and parks with highways running through them, like the Great Smoky Mountains, also are likely to be accessible. Officials won't scour the entire 1.2 million-acre Grand Canyon park looking for people; those already hiking or camping in the backcountry and on rafting trips on the Colorado River will be able to complete their trips. The care and feeding of the National Zoo's animals will all go on as usual.

The shutdown won't affect Ellis Island or the Washington Monument because they are already closed for repairs.

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THIS: The Board of Veterans Appeals will stop issuing rulings, meaning decisions about some disability claims by veterans will wait even longer than usual. Interments at national cemeteries will slow. If a shutdown drags on for weeks, disability and pension payments may be interrupted.

BUT NOT THIS: Most Department of Veterans Affairs services will continue; 95 percent of staff are either exempted from a shutdown or have the budget to keep paying them already in place. The department's health programs get their money a year in advance, so veterans can still see their doctor, get prescriptions filled and visit fully operational VA hospitals and outpatient clinics. Claims workers can process benefit payments until late in October, when that money starts to run out.

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THIS: New patients won't be accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health, including 255 trials for cancer patients; care will continue for current patients. Federal medical research will be curtailed and the government's ability to detect and investigate disease outbreaks will be harmed. Grant applications will be accepted but not dealt with.

BUT NOT THIS: The show goes on for President Barack Obama's health care law. Tuesday heralds the debut of health insurance markets across the country, which begin accepting customers for coverage that begins in January. Core elements of the law are an entitlement, like Social Security, so their flow of money does not depend on congressional appropriations. That's why Republicans have been trying explicitly to starve the law of money. An impasse in approving a federal budget has little effect on Obamacare. As for NIH operations, reduced hospital staff at the NIH Clinical Center will care for current patients, and research animals will get their usual care.

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