Public land open during government shutdown

By: 
Statesman-Examiner
Staff Writer

A federal government shutdown is underway due to a budget impasse between Congressional Democrats and President Donald Trump. It will not affect access to public lands in the immediate, but it could limit support services, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

A statement released Saturday by Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area said, “[N]ational parks will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures. Park roads, boat launches and campgrounds at Lake Roosevelt will remain accessible to visitors, but emergency and rescue services will be limited.”

The statement also said public information centers, restrooms, trash collection and facilities and road maintenance, including plowing if applicable, will not be provided.

The Park Service, like the U.S. Forest Service, is not monitoring or updating websites and social media accounts during the shutdown, so current conditions on the ground will not be posted.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the Forest Service, released this statement on Twitter: “We will be providing as many of our core services as we can using existing resources.”

In a press release, the agency specified that some of the activities will not stop, at least in the short-term, including law enforcement and emergency and natural disaster response.

Due to a four-day holiday weekend, officials from the Colville National Forest were unable to be reached Dec. 24 for further details.

Federal officials announced Friday that enough funds appropriated in prior years are being carried forward to keep Farm Service Agency offices open through Dec. 28. However, farm loan services will be limited, and people are asked to call ahead to make sure their local office is open.

In Colville, the agency can be reached at 509-685-0858.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol operations are expected to continue without pause, and the State Department will continue to process passports, according to news reports.

The Transportation Security Administration is still on the job screening passengers during the holidays and Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers will continue to direct planes.

About three-quarters of the federal budget is funded through September 2019, including the Pentagon, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Corrections officials at federal prisons and personnel charged with immigration enforcement, issuing weather forecasts and inspecting meat and poultry will also stay on the job.

The remaining quarter of the government that will lack funding includes the departments of State, Justice, Treasury, Transportation and Homeland Security.

The U.S. Postal Service is a separate entity so mail operations will not be affected by a shutdown.

All told, about 800,000 of the 2.1 million federal workers nationwide — more than one third — will be affected in some way, according to reports.

The shutdown began at the stroke of midnight Friday when the Senate refused to concede to Trump's demand for $5 billion to fund a border wall. The House had approved that amount but the Senate version of the budget bill only included $1.6 billion.

Negotiations were underway on Monday, with Vice President Mike Pence proposing $2.5 billion for border security, including a wall, in a stopgap spending bill, according to a CNN report.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was reported as saying, “Unfortunately, we're still very far apart,” after the visit with Pence.

In the history of shutdowns, sederal employees deemed essential continue to work, but their pay is withheld until the shutdown is over. Other federal workers are placed on furlough, meaning they are effectively put on a leave of absence without pay.

On Friday, the Senate passed a bill to ensure federal employees who are furloughed get back pay. It was approved by unanimous consent, but will still need to pass the House.

The president's incoming acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney reported on the show “Fox News Sunday” that the shutdown could well continue into the new year.

The next Senate session is Thursday, when negotiations over wall funding are expected to continue.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has said the new Democratically-controlled chamber will pass a bill to stop the shutdown if it lasts into the new Congress. Her statement was echoed by Schumer.

Last week, Northeastern Washington Congresswoman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican who voted to fund the wall, said she did not want to see a shutdown.

Her spokesman, Jared Powell, said the House, which is scheduled to relinquish control in January, has been working on a stop-gap funding measure that will kick negotiations on wall funding into the next Congress.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called Trump's wall proposal “wasteful” in comment to reporters last week.

This is the third government shutdown in 2018. The first in January lasted just a few hours, as did the second in February.

The history of federal shutdowns includes several that extended beyond a week.

Conflicts between Democratic President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress over Medicare funding in 1995 suspended non-essential services ftwice in November and December, for a total of 27 days.

In 2013, a shutdown lasted 16 days when the Republican-led house got into a political fight with Democratic President Barack Obama and the Senate over defunding of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

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