Veterans snap pictures Tuesday at the World War II Memorial in Washington after being escorted by members of Congress past barriers set up for the shutdown.WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: (L-R) Korean War veteran Bill Bakley, Vietnam War veterans Norman Tjelmeland, and Stanley Twedt, of Ames, Iowa, snap pictures at the World War II Memorial after they were let in during a government shutdown October 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. The memorial was temporary opened to veteran groups arrived on Honor Flights on a day trip to visit the nations capital. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Washington — First slowed, then stalled by political gridlock, the vast machinery of government clanged into partial shutdown mode on Tuesday and President Barack Obama warned the longer it goes “the more families will be hurt.” Republicans said it was his fault, not theirs.
Ominously, there were suggestions from leaders in both parties that the shutdown, heading for its second day, could last for weeks and grow to encompass a possible default by the Treasury if Congress fails to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. The two issues are “now all together,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Speaking at the White House, the president accused Republicans of causing the first partial closure in 17 years as part of a non-stop “ideological crusade” to wipe out his signature health care law.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, gave as good as he got. “The president isn’t telling the whole story,’ he said in an opinion article posted on the USA Today website. “The fact is that Washington Democrats have slammed the door on reopening the government by refusing to engage in bipartisan talks.”
Both houses of Congress met in a Capitol closed to regular public tours, part of the impact of a partial shutdown that sent ripples of disruption outward — from museums and memorials in Washington to Yellowstone and other national parks and to tax auditors and federal offices serving Americans coast to coast.
More than 125 veterans from Mississippi and Iowa arrived for a previously scheduled visit to the World War II Memorial Tuesday morning to find it barricaded by the National Park Service because of the shutdown. Several members of Congress escorted them inside after cutting police tape and moving barriers that blocked the memorial.
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, said he will ask the Park Service in a letter to remove all barricades at other national memorials after the controversy at the memorial.
Huizenga said he and other lawmakers thought the barricades at the open-air memorial were “the dumbest thing we've ever seen.” Huizenga, the son of a World War II veteran, and a few colleagues helped to lift up the barricades to allow access to the group of Honor Flight veterans, many of whom were confined to wheelchairs.
National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said the memorial was closed because of an order to close all park service grounds to protect the sites and keep visitors safe while more than 300 workers are furloughed.
Officials said roughly 800,000 federal employees would be affected by the shutdown after a half-day on the job Tuesday to fill out time cards, put new messages on their voice mail and similar chores.
Among those workers were some at the National Institute of Health’s famed hospital of last resort, where officials said no new patients would be admitted for the duration of the shutdown. Dr. Francis Collins, agency director, estimated that each week the shutdown lasts will force the facility to turn away about 200 patients, 30 of them children, who want to enroll in studies of experimental treatments. Patients already at the hospital are permitted to stay.
Late Tuesday, House Republicans sought swift passage of legislation aimed at reopening small slices of the federal establishment. The bills covered the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Park Service and a portion of the Washington, D.C., government funded with local tax revenue.
Democrats generally opposed all three, saying Republicans shouldn’t be permitted to choose which agencies remain open and which stay shut. As a result, all fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.
The White House also issued veto threats against the bills, drawing a jab from Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner. Obama “can’t continue to complain about the impact of the government shutdown on veterans, visitors at National Parks, and D.C. while vetoing bills to help them,” Steel said.
Several House Democrats used the occasion to seek a vote on a standalone spending bill, a measure that Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut said would “end the tea party shutdown.” The requests were ruled out of order.
Ironically, a major expansion of the health care law — the very event Republicans had hoped to prevent — was unaffected as consumers flocked for the first time Tuesday to websites to shop for coverage sold by private companies.
The talk of joining the current fight — the Republicans are trying to sidetrack the health care law by holding up funding for the fiscal year that began at midnight Monday — to a dispute involving the national debt limit suggested the shutdown could go on for some time.
The administration says the ceiling must be raised by mid-month, and Republicans have long vowed to seek cuts in spending at the same time.
In Washington, some Republicans conceded privately they might bear the brunt of any public anger over the shutdown — and seemed resigned to an eventual surrender in their latest bruising struggle with Obama.
Democrats have “all the leverage and we’ve got none,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.
Detroit News staff contributed.