Shutdown: At least the pandas get fed

Updated: 2013-10-02 11:16

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Zhao Xiaomin and his girlfriend looked a bit disappointed as they walked down the National Mall in Washington early Tuesday afternoon, only to find that all the museums were closed due to the partial shutdown of the federal government.

"We came to visit the museums," said Zhao, standing near the National Gallery of Art.

The two natives of Hangzhou in east China's Zhejiang province arrived in the nation's capital Tuesday morning from the West Coast for a two-day trip before heading to New York City.

Zhao said he was not optimistic that a deal would be worked out Tuesday so that the museums would be open Wednesday. "I guess it won't be that fast," he said.

Across the mall and outside the National Air and Space Museum, six tourists from Kuwait who were in Washington for only one day said they were also upset to find the museums closed.

In the northwest part of the capital outside the Smithsonian National Zoo, the usual lively scene of a throng of visitors, mostly children, was nowhere to be found on this sunny day. A sign on the zoo's gate explained why: "All Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are closed today due to the government shutdown."

Shutdown: At least the pandas get fed

Not only couldn't visitors go into the zoo, they couldn't go online to view the pandas 24/7 because the zoo's webcam had been turned off. But the pandas and other animals will still be fed by zoo keepers.

The shutdown, the first in 17 years, could put more than 800,000 federal workers on unpaid leave. It came after the US Congress failed to find a compromise on a bill by Monday midnight to fund government operations.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel revealed on Tuesday that his department will probably have to furlough about 400,000 civilian employees.

While several passersby outside the zoo referred the closure as "sad", people in China were also discussing the partial shutdown of the government of the world's largest economy and only superpower.

One Chinese named Hao Xue commented on that such a decision will have a direct impact on people's daily life.

"The shutdown shows that you should not use taxpayers' money at will even if you're the president," said another person named Quwen Liaozhai. The posting won endorsement from 400 people.

"China can learn something from this, that the government should use money discretely," said one person who used the name Iamfish.

Chinese news media have noted that the shutdown will have an impact on Chinese tourists going to the US due to the closure of national parks and museums.

The shutdown seemed inevitable late Monday night after the Senate rejected the House of Representatives' proposal that the temporary funding for the government should include a delay in the implementation of President Barack Obama's health care program.

There was still no sign of an immediate compromise late Tuesday as the two sides continued to trade blames.

As the blame game continued, a Pew Center survey released on Monday showed that more than 26 percent of Americans surveyed are upset with the federal government, while 51 percent were frustrated at the way things were going. Only 17 percent of the respondents said they were content with how the federal government was functioning.

Meanwhile, a Gallup poll shows that Americans are more likely to believe the current budget debate is an attempt by both sides to gain political advantage (47 percent) and not a battle over principles and future direction of government (37 percent).

The dysfunctional Washington politics, which seem to be in a constant election campaign mode, has also left many wondering to what extent the US can still promote itself as a role model political system and a leader of the world.

Obama is scheduled to leave on Saturday for a weeklong trip to Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines and attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and East Asia Summit.

There have been 17 government shutdowns since 1976 but most of them lasted for just a few days. The last and longest was in 1995-96 when President Bill Clinton's government was shut down for 21 days.

The government shutdown this time might be just the first major drama in Washington in October. In less than three weeks, the US government is expected to hit its debt ceiling. That means that unless Congress raises the ceiling and allows the Treasury Department to issue new debt, the US may find itself unable to make all payments at home and abroad.

And that is expected to send shock waves across the globe, David Stockton of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former chief economist at the Federal Reserve Board, said in a talk Tuesday.

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(China Daily USA 10/02/2013 page2)