At midnight on Monday October 1st 2013, the North American economy went into effective shutdown, putting huge numbers of federal staff on furlough, and either closing or drastically cutting the functions of most governmental departments. Talks are continuing into resolving the issue.
The background to this event, which has not happened in seventeen years, is a squabble between the principal political parties. The Democrats control the US Senate, and want to pass a resolution guaranteeing funding for President Obama’s healthcare reforms. The Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, want to strip the resolution of that funding. Because the “Obamacare” funding is tied to to the bill to continue the federal budget, it has become an impassé, making it impossible to agree a budget for the fiscal year 2014. So most government funding has dried up with immediate effect.
Key government functions of course remain operational, such as air traffic control, border checks, policing and on-the-ground military. But around 800,000 government employees are now on unpaid leave for an uncertain period of time, with many departments either closed completely, or carrying out only essential business.
Overseas cemeteries, such as those in Europe, are closed to the public. There are severe cuts to the education budget, and that of the FDA, meaning many inspections will not take place. Well over half of all employees at the Department of Energy are sat at home waiting to be recalled.
The White House has estimated that there could be a $10 billion cost to the economy should the shutdown last a week, and the effects on the wider global economy will likely be worse the longer time goes on.
Like most countries, the USA derives a significant proportion of its income from tourism receipts, and this is an industry that will likely be drastically affected in the short term.
Effects on tourism
Private companies are not affected by the shutdown, so travelling to the States is fine. Air traffic controllers are still in their towers, and passport and visas are still being checked, although longer queues than usual should be anticipated. Visa applications are also being processed as a fee is normally payable, although again it might be wise to expect a delay. So getting into the States doesn’t pose any more problems than normal.
And hotels are still accepting visitors, so you can be confident of a bed for the night!
But when you want to go out and do stuff though…
Some of the country’s biggest draws for tourists are its national parks such as Yosemite and Big Bend, which are hugely popular for anyone interested in a cycling, photography or walking holiday in America, and its museums and monuments. And for the most part, these are all closed to the public.
There have already been protests from military veteran who had arrived in Washington to pay their respects at the WWII memorial, and from passengers wanting to take the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty. And expect them to continue, as people find their holiday itineraries curtailed.
The Smithsonian, the National Air and Space Museum, and the Museum of Natural History are all shut down for the foreseeable future, as are Alcatraz, and many Washington memorials.
You cannot get into any National Parks or campgrounds as only a few rangers and emergency services remain on duty. Incredibly, this means that searches for missing people, including a hiker at a park in Idaho, are having to be postponed or populated by volunteers to keep going.
So the message is, if you want to visit the United States for sightseeing, you need to bring a zoom lens for your camera because for the time being, you’re not going to be able to access the main events.
Rob is attempting to keep up with American current affairs but still remains baffled as to how a country can put itself into such a remarkable position