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View to a shutdown: Washington without the government

A man reads morning newspapers from around the U.S. at the Newseum in Washington October 1, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
A man reads morning newspapers from around the U.S. at the Newseum in Washington October 1, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The lawmakers who shut down the U.S. government on Tuesday have the best view of the result from their perch in the U.S. Capitol: a two-mile stretch of museums, monuments and federal buildings along the National Mall that were closed for business.

With up to a million federal workers across the United States forced to stay home without pay, the impact of the shutdown was most concentrated in Washington, D.C., where the federal government is the biggest single job provider.

Tourists had little reason to get up early. The Smithsonian museums lining the Mall - a top destination for visitors to the capital - were shuttered.

Barricades sealed off the Lincoln Memorial, where the giant statue of President Abraham Lincoln stares out through white marble columns up the hill toward the U.S. Capitol.

The memorial's broad steps, from which civil rights hero Martin Luther King made his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, were marked off by tape reading "Police line do not cross."

"So we drive all this distance and when we get here, we can't see it, we can't even get close to it and I just totally - brings tears to your eyes, it really did," said Laverne Clarkston, 80, a tourist from New Mexico.

Barriers didn't stop a group of elderly war veterans, some using wheelchairs, who arrived in several buses at the World War II Memorial. The veterans crossed the dividers and went through.

But the shutdown threw a wrench into Steve and Betty Ball's plans to tour Washington.

"It coincided with our arrival last night," Betty Ball said as she strolled along the Mall. "We're probably not going to any museums but we're going to enjoy the Mall."

The San Diego retirees, aged 72 and 70, were among the few tourists on the normally bustling corridor of lawns and pathways that links the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.

Outside the hugely popular National Air and Space Museum, a sign read: "All Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are closed today due to the government shutdown. We apologize for the inconvenience."

The zoo's animal webcams went dark, even the beloved "panda cam," depriving fans of the giant panda baby born in August from monitoring its progress.

"All the animals will continue to be fed and cared for," the National Zoological Park reassured the public on its website.

BEYOND THE BELTWAY

It was the federal government's first partial shutdown in 17 years. Government agencies were directed to cut back services after lawmakers could not break a political stalemate to continue operations.

The impact was felt far beyond the U.S. capital, closing national parks from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Maine's Acadia.

In New York City, crowds of tourists were turned away from the Battery Park ferry that would have taken them to the Statue of Liberty. Krista Avery, 45, and Melinda Butler, 33, nurses from Jacksonville, Florida, disagree about politics but were united in disappointment that the landmark was closed.

"We're being punished because they can't sit down and reach an agreement? This isn't what America is supposed to be about, all this fighting," said Avery, a Democrat who voted for President Barack Obama. "We pay taxes and we already paid to see it."

In Pennsylvania, a rally by the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan scheduled for Saturday was canceled when the Gettysburg National Military Park rescinded its permit because of the shutdown, the Patriot-News newspaper reported.

At the Newseum, a private institution and one of the few museums in Washington that was open, passersby looked at dozens of front pages on display from around the United States, many displaying headlines about the shutdown.

The Washington Post front page banner headline proclaimed "SHUTDOWN: Congress stuck in funding stalemate."

In New York, they were less polite. The Daily News front page headline read "House of Turds," with a picture of House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner sitting in Lincoln's chair on the Lincoln Memorial. The subhead read, "United we suffer as cess-pols play liar's poker with government shutdown."

Official government Twitter feeds ground to a halt and the White House website, whitehouse.gov blamed "Congress' failure to pass legislation to fund the government," for any out-of-date postings or unanswered inquiries.

CITY STILL RUNNING

The capital city of 600,000 people, with a metropolitan area of nearly 6 million, was by no means a ghost town. Washington city government was running, as was public transport, and the notorious morning traffic jams appeared to be as bad as ever.

While some government operations were halted, spending for essential functions related to national security and public safety continued, including pay for U.S. military troops.

While most of the 18,000 people who work for the space agency NASA were idled, the two American astronauts aboard the International Space Station and flight directors at Mission Control in Houston were exempt.

At Congress, U.S. Capitol Police were on duty at the entrances, some grumbling - off the record - that they were designated "essential personnel," but were not being paid.

Members of Congress will continue to be paid during the shutdown as they bicker about how to get the government back to work.

While a government ID didn't guarantee a paycheck, it was good on Tuesday for some discounts. Yoga studio Past Tense offered a $10 class "to help you alleviate some of the stress from the government shutdown."

The Washington Post published a list of local bars offering discounts and even all-day "Happy Hours," it said, so that unpaid workers would not go hungry or thirsty.

In suburban Silver Spring, Maryland, Zena Polin, co-owner of The Daily Dish restaurant, told Reuters: "We're going to do a free cup of regular coffee to all government workers. Members of Congress pay double."

(Reporting by Ian Simpson,; Elvina Nawaguna, David Lawder, Howard Goller, Susan Heavey in Washington, Patricia Zengerle, Kim Dixon, Kevin Lamarque; Edith Honan in New York; Irene Klotz in Houston; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by David Storey)

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