Friday, December 19, 2014


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Workers, Tourists Lose Out In U.S. Government Shutdown

"Welcome to America's capital!" The Lincoln Memorial is just one of the many Washington landmarks closed because of the federal government shutdown.
"Welcome to America's capital!" The Lincoln Memorial is just one of the many Washington landmarks closed because of the federal government shutdown.
By Heather Maher and Richard Solash
WASHINGTON -- Washington, D.C., may be a government town, but also it's one of the biggest U.S. tourist destinations.

So the government shutdown isn't just affecting the estimated 800,000 federal employees who have been sent off the job without pay. Local businesses have lost customers and disappointed tourists are finding museums like the world-renowned Smithsonian closed and monuments like the Lincoln Memorial barricaded.

That's where a group of Spanish tourists could be found on a warm fall afternoon on October 2. But instead of climbing the stairs to see the famous statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln, they were stuck photographing a sign that read, "Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed."

Hailey Monette from Atlanta was also there, with her 9-year-old daughter, Isabella."[We only had] one day in Washington and yeah -- of course the day that we chose to be here is when it's all closed down," she said. "I don't know, I think it's a bit ridiculous. We're just playing politics."

Her daughter had some advice for members of Congress: "To work it out. I don't know, like, how difficult could it be just to work it out?"

On October 1, the first day of the shutdown, a group of elderly military veterans who had flown in from far-flung U.S. cities "stormed" the World War II memorial on the National Mall, which was surrounded by yellow tape and barricades. They were eventually allowed in after members of Congress intervened.

Furloughed federal employee John Aucott is "embarrassed" for the people who came to see Washington.Furloughed federal employee John Aucott is "embarrassed" for the people who came to see Washington.
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Furloughed federal employee John Aucott is "embarrassed" for the people who came to see Washington.
Furloughed federal employee John Aucott is "embarrassed" for the people who came to see Washington.
Ken Calvert, from Illinois, showed up at the memorial on October 2 and vented his frustration to a group of park rangers who only were there to direct people away from the site. "This is the reason we came here: We came here to see the national monuments of our country," he said. "I was born here [and] my father was a World War II veteran. It's crazy. This is what he fought for?"

Standing nearby was furloughed federal employee John Aucott, who was holding a sign that read: "Our vets did their job. Congress, please do yours!" Aucott said: "Well, actually, I'm a little embarrassed right now for people that came here to see our beautiful monuments. I'm embarrassed because it kind of reflects that our government doesn't work. I don't think it's working right now."

'Free Eats For Feds, EXCEPT CONGRESSMEN'

Because Washington relies heavily on tourism income, the shutdown could prove costly to city coffers.

City officials say they could lose as much as $200 million per day in taxes collected on hotel rooms and restaurant bookings. Local businesses who rely on tourists and federal workers for revenue are also feeling the pain.

Even romance has taken a hit.

"The Washington Post" profiled a couple who had planned to get married on the lawn of the Jefferson Memorial on October 5. Mike Cassesso and MaiLien Le got a letter from the National Parks Service saying that their ceremony couldn't go forward now because the memorial was closed.

Theirs is one of two dozen weddings supposed to take place on the National Mall that are now in limbo because of the congressional budget impasse.

Furloughed government employees are also in a kind of limbo, faced with filling the hours they would normally be at work.

Local newspapers and city guides have helpfully compiled suggestions, from outdoor concert listings to private museums. Since no one is getting paid during the shutdown, the listings also include free suggestions, like where to find bike paths.

Dozens of area restaurants and bars are helping with the dismal economic reality by offering discounts and free food to federal workers.

At the Pork Barrel Barbeque in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, the owners made their feelings about Congress clear by giving away 275 sandwiches to workers who showed a government ID, but making sure that their Twitter announcement specified that the offer "EXCLUDES CONGRESSMEN."

At Sprinkles Cupcakes in Washington, Caitlin Crockett, who was sent home from the Department of Health and Human Services for being "nonessential," was appreciative of the sympathy, telling Reuters: "Well, I appreciate the support of local businesses to the federal workforce. Sprinkles is offering a free cupcake for anyone with a federal employee status."

And at the Flying Dog Brewing Company in Frederick, Maryland, federal employees can get free tours of the brewery, followed by free beer. Their slogan: "You're not unessential to us."

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