CLOSED: Blame the shutdown

When Williamstown resident Becky Gallaher looks across Waverly Road at the Ohio River Islands Wildlife Refuge, she can tell something is different.

“I’m just used to always seeing cars over there,” said Gallaher, 42. “And people walk the trails.”

On Thursday, the parking lot was empty except for government trucks, and road cones blocked entrance to the property, bearing signs that explained the refuge is closed “for the duration of the federal government shutdown.”

A similar sign hangs on the gate blocking the entrance to the Leith Run Recreation Area and Frontier Boat Launch, both along Ohio 7 and part of the Wayne National Forest.

A call to forest public affairs officer Gary Chancey goes to a voicemail message in which Chancey says he’s on furlough due to the shutdown.

“I look forward to returning your message once funding has been restored,” the message says.

All but the most essential services like law enforcement and fire suppression have been shut down at federal parks and locations like the refuge and forest due to Congress and the White House’s inability to come to an agreement to keep the government funded amid continued opposition to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Some federal activities, like the U.S. Postal Service, which is independently funded, remain operational as the standoff continues in Washington, D.C.

David Brightbill, executive director of Washington-Morgan Community Action, said so far its federally funded programs are unaffected by the shutdown.

“I don’t know of anything we have that’s in imminent danger,” he said.

The agency’s rental assistance program, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has enough money at least for this month and may be funded through November, Brightbill said. Money for the local Head Start program was allocated on April 1, so it falls under the previous fiscal year.

At Parkersburg’s federal building, the U.S. District Court and Social Security offices are open, but the Internal Revenue Service location is closed. The Bureau of Public Debt also remains operational.

House Republicans have proposed legislation to reopen some federal services, but President Obama and Senate Democrats have rejected that approach. Obama blames House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, for bowing to extreme elements in his party seeking concessions over the president’s signature health care legislation in exchange for a spending bill.

Congress’ reaction

Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, blamed Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, for “refusing to come to the table and have an adult conversation.”

Johnson, a Marietta resident, said House Republicans have passed legislation to fund the government and repeal Obamacare. When that was rejected by the Senate, they made two other proposals – delay full implementation for a year or delaying the individual mandate for a year while repealing language that allows the federal government to contribute a portion of health insurance costs for members of Congress and their staffs.

“I am prepared to support funding the federal government and doing what the people elected me to do,” Johnson said. “This should not be an either or decision. This is Congress’ job.”

Johnson said that’s why Republicans have offered legislation to reopen national parks and monuments, the National Institute for Health and keep veteran services funded.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a statement this week that the effects of the shutdown could be avoided if the House would vote on the Senate-passed spending plan “that keeps the government running without rehashing old political fights.

“It’s time for the House to put middle-class families, senior citizens and veterans ahead of political ideology,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he “would be willing to vote for a spending bill without any health care-related provisions, but only if the spending levels complied with those the Senate Democrats and Republicans both agreed to in the 2011 Budget Control Act.”

“He will continue to fight Obamacare in other ways,” press secretary Caitlin Dunn said in an email.

One thing Brown, Portman and Johnson have agreed on is that they will not accept their salaries during the shutdown. Johnson said that under law, Congress cannot adjust its pay, so he will be donating his salary to charity, as will Portman and Brown.

“I just don’t think it’s fair for the American people to have to live by a set of rules that Washington doesn’t,” Johnson said. Many federal workers are “not getting paid during the furlough period; why should members of Congress and the president … if we can’t get the job done?”