Dems Mock GOP Outrage Over Shutdown Closures

Darrell Issa listens during a meeting of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, which he chairs, on Thursday, April 14, 2011.
National Journal
Alex Brown
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Alex Brown
Oct. 16, 2013, 8:39 a.m.

Mem­bers of Con­gress seemed to chan­nel Cold­play Wed­nes­day dur­ing a House hear­ing on the shut­down’s ef­fects. “Nobody said it was easy,” went the Demo­crat­ic mes­sage. Countered Re­pub­lic­ans: “No one ever said it would be this hard.”

At is­sue were pub­lic land clos­ures by the Na­tion­al Park Ser­vice that Re­pub­lic­ans have de­scribed as polit­ic­ally mo­tiv­ated. Even the name of the hear­ing — “As Dif­fi­cult As Pos­sible” — car­ried the GOP mes­sage of un­ne­ces­sary hard­ship caused by NPS de­cisions. The joint hear­ing was con­vened by the Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee and the Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee.

“The Park Ser­vice “¦ [should] nev­er al­low it­self to be sub­jec­ted to polit­ic­al in­flu­ence,” said House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Chair­man Dar­rell Issa, R-Cal­if. “Yet it ap­pears today the Park Ser­vice lead­er­ship is no longer liv­ing up to that man­date.”

NPS Dir­ect­or Jonath­an Jar­vis had the un­en­vi­able task of re­spond­ing to Issa and oth­ers who de­man­ded an­swers for a host of the agency’s spe­cif­ic clos­ures. He de­fen­ded them as ne­ces­sary un­der shut­down pro­ced­ure, de­clin­ing to wade in­to the polit­ic­al blame game over who is re­spons­ible for the shut­down. Per­haps that’s be­cause Demo­crats did it for him.

“We’re 15 days in­to a gov­ern­ment shut­down, and now Re­pub­lic­ans want to in­vest­ig­ate why the gov­ern­ment is shut down,” said Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Peter De­Fazio of Ore­gon. Oth­er Demo­crats asked Re­pub­lic­ans what they ex­pec­ted would hap­pen when they shut down the gov­ern­ment, but De­Fazio took it a step fur­ther. “I will demon­strate who’s re­spons­ible,” he said, hold­ing up a mir­ror to face his GOP col­leagues.

Jar­vis said the Park Ser­vice gave no or­ders, nor re­ceived any from the White House, to make shut­down clos­ures in­ten­tion­ally pain­ful or vis­ible. Much-cri­tiqued clos­ures of monu­ments such as the World War II Me­mori­al were not without reas­on, he said. “There’s a lot of talk about open-air me­mori­als that are un­manned,” he said. “They are not un­oc­cu­pied. My re­spons­ib­il­ity is to keep them pro­tec­ted 24 hours a day.”¦ It pains us to not be able to in­vite the Amer­ic­an pub­lic in­to their na­tion­al parks.”

Some Demo­crats poin­ted to the green paint splattered on the Lin­coln Me­mori­al this sum­mer, say­ing such in­cid­ents could es­cal­ate if monu­ments were left open with no NPS rangers to provide se­cur­ity.

That didn’t sat­is­fy Re­pub­lic­ans, who said earli­er gov­ern­ment shut­downs did not in­flict such pain­ful con­sequences. Former NPS Deputy Dir­ect­or Denis Galv­in called that se­lect­ive memory. “Yes, Lin­coln and Jef­fer­son were bar­ri­caded,” he said. “The much-dis­cussed World War II Me­mori­al did not ex­ist then, but if it had, I think we would have bar­ri­caded it.”

Jar­vis also pushed back on news re­ports that quoted a ranger who said NPS em­ploy­ees were in­struc­ted to make clos­ures pain­ful. “I have no idea where that in­form­a­tion came from. That’s hearsay,” he said. “I’m in com­mu­nic­a­tion with my em­ploy­ees — the ones who are still at work — and they do not be­lieve that.”

Keep­ing the parks open, Jar­vis said, would have been a vi­ol­a­tion of the An­ti­de­fi­ciency Act, which pre­vents op­er­a­tions without ap­pro­pri­ated fund­ing. Rep. Rob Bish­op, R-Utah, re­spon­ded that erect­ing bar­ri­cades “cre­ated a new ob­lig­a­tion with no new threat,” it­self a vi­ol­a­tion of the act.

Over­sight Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Eli­jah Cum­mings, D-Md., lamen­ted that ar­gu­ments over the World War II Me­mori­al dis­trac­ted from ser­i­ous shut­down prob­lems, like delayed vet­er­ans’ be­ne­fits. Oth­er Demo­crats were more than con­tent to mock the GOP for its out­rage over the park clos­ures. “Blam­ing the Na­tion­al Park Ser­vice for the clos­ure of the parks is like vot­ing for cap­it­al pun­ish­ment and then blam­ing the hang­man,” said Del­eg­ate Elean­or Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

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