, WASHINGTON, Oct 1 – Monuments closed, offices fell silent and 800,000 public servants were told to stay at home on Monday as Washington’s perennial political crisis forced the first government shutdown in 17 years.
The effects of the budget battle ranged from the poignant to the symbolic. A social program that provides food to poor women and children was hit and the Statue of Liberty was closed to visitors.
Under the Capitol, where rival clans of lawmakers failed overnight to find an eleventh-hour deal to pass a federal budget, the National Mall was sealed off by a sign marked “area closed.”
Prospects of a swift resolution to the crisis were unclear and economists warned that the struggling US economic recovery could suffer if the shutdown drags on for more than just a few days.
In a zero sum battle typical of the divided US political system, Republicans tied new government funding to attempts to delay or dismantle President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform.
Each time, their effort was killed by Obama’s allies in the Democratic-led Senate, leaving the government in limbo when its money ran out at the end of the fiscal year at midnight Monday.
“This is an unnecessary blow to America,” a sombre Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate.
Some federal agencies deemed non-essential were all but closed. Some 97 percent of NASA’s staff were sent home, although those supporting the crew of the International Space Station were kept on.
Other bodies seen as doing urgent work, like the military and border patrol were kept at full strength, but the Pentagon was due to stand down almost half of its 800,000 civilian employees.
A majority of voters agreed. A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday said they oppose the shutdown of the government as a way to derail Obamacare by a margin of 72 percent to 22 percent.
While Obama supporters blamed the deadlock on a relatively small faction of “Tea Party” conservatives in the Republican-led House of Representatives, Congress as a whole has lost prestige.
“House of Turds,” headlined the New York Daily News above a parody picture of House Speaker John Boehner as the corrupt anti-hero of Washington television drama “House of Cards.”
“DC cess-pols shut down government. They get paid while nation suffers,” it trumpeted.
Social media sites such as Twitter lit up with popular derision.
More than 13,000 people mockingly retweeted a message from the US Capitol, the seat of Congress: “Due to a lapse in government funding, this account will not be active until further notice.”