State House News Service

Patrick: Federal Shutdown ‘Avoidable And Foolish’

BOSTON — Though Cape Cod beaches will remain open for those who can get there and through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail might be able to continue their treks through the Berkshires, federal phones will go unanswered and padlocks would greet visitors to national parks throughout the state if Congress does not pass a spending bill.

“You’ll find padlocks on the doors to the monuments,” said Sean Hennessey, public affairs officer for the Boston National Historic Park. He said the Boston office employs about 100 people and all but about 15 staff, generally law enforcement, would be furloughed in the event of a federal government shutdown.

Gov. Deval Patrick said the shutdown is a “foolish” thing that would hamper the parks, services for people who receive a range of government benefits and the civilian military.

“A government shutdown is an avoidable and foolish thing, and I hope that the hard right gets responsible before the end of the day,” Patrick told reporters Monday. Asked what the implications would be next year, an election year, Patrick said, “I hope that there are consequences for it. But I don’t know. American politics is still something I’m learning.”

Later Monday afternoon, Patrick said, “I don’t think there’s a citizen who ought not be seriously dismayed by the willingness of a small group of radical right-wing Tea Party members to drive the economy and the country over a cliff.”

Patrick said it was “time to move on” from the partisan fighting over Obamacare, suggesting that Obama’s re-election in 2012 should have served as a referendum of the Republican strategy to continue fighting the health law’s implementation.

“It’s a very dumb thing to do and a very disappointing thing, particularly when what is being held up is something that has been affirmed not just by a vote of Congress but by the rejection of repeal attempts over 40 times, by the Supreme Court and by a national election.”

Unless the two branches of Congress come together in an 11th-hour agreement Monday night, much of the federal government, including the National Parks Service, will cease to be funded Tuesday and essentially shut down until a spending bill is passed.

The Republican-controlled U.S. House has added language to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act to a spending bill, while the U.S. Senate has removed that language. With a vote of the Senate Monday afternoon, the bill is back within the House.

Republicans have described their action as a means to put off the controversial expansion of health care. “It’s time for the Senate to listen to the American people,” House Speaker John Boehner said in televised remarks Monday.

Democrats have highlighted the fallout from a failure to pass a spending bill.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said a shutdown would mean people “can’t enjoy” the national parks, and suggested Boehner could pass legislation backed by the Senate if he was willing to engage across the aisle and behaved more like former Speaker Tip O’Neill.

“There’s just no end of hurt, and the longer it goes on, the worse it is,” Boxer said of the shutdown, which she said would affect “Superfund” clean-up sites as well. She said, “Act like a speaker of the House, not just a speaker of the Republicans.”

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said the effects on Boston would be minimal as schools, police and the fire stations continue to operate.

“The National Park Service, not much effect on the city,” Menino said. The five-term mayor said he was concerned by the situation. “It’s the stagnation of the federal government.”

The unfolding drama in Washington could harm marketers’ attempts to present the state and the country to international tourists as a diverse, welcoming, interesting and important place, said Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism Executive Director Betsy Wall.

“I don’t think we look like a super-smart country with this happening and we’re in a very competitive environment with getting international visitors here,” Wall told the News Service. “I think that we could lose a competitive advantage to other countries where the political drama is not as toxic.”

Massachusetts has 15 national parks that pour millions of dollars into the tourism economy. Travelers to Massachusetts in 2011 spent $17.7 billion, according to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

The national parks in Massachusetts generated $432 million in “economic benefit” in 2011, and about 10.5 million people visited the state’s national parks in 2012, according to the National Park Service.

The national parks serve state residents as well, as school groups connect to the state’s history and natural landscape by visiting parks, such as the Saugus Ironworks, commemorating 17th century industry along the Saugus River, and preserved relics from the Industrial Revolution at Lowell National Historic Park and the old industrial waterways of the Blackstone River Valley.

The Cape Cod National Seashore receives about 10 to 17 busloads of visitors to its Salt Pond Visitors Center, which would close without the congressional funding, said Cape Superintendent George Price.

“It’s obviously a disappointment to our visitors. The people on the tour groups come from around the country,” said Price, who said 11 of the approximately 130 employees this time of year would stay on to provide security and maintenance.

The National Seashore comprises 44,600 acres on the Outer Cape, and though some areas will be roped off, people will be allowed to continue visiting beaches if they are accessible, said Price, who said the popular Highlands Links golf course would be closed during a shutdown.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Department of the Interior did not respond to requests for comment on how a shutdown would affect the trail, which runs from Georgia up to Mount Katahdin in Maine, through the Berkshires in western Massachusetts.

Interior has issued procedures for shutting down the parks, writing that in the first phase, taking place over a day and a half, visitors “will be instructed to leave the park immediately,” and following that campers will be told to “depart the park” as park roads are closed.

Patrick, who spoke in a conference call with other governors and Obama administration officials Monday, said the shutdown could have economic impacts, and it will affect student loan service, Small Business Administration services and food stamp services.

“Everybody’s going to be affected if it happens and it’s completely avoidable,” Patrick said. “Every analyst from every political stripe acknowledges that this will slow down the nation’s economic recovery and that’s certainly not what we need.”

Patrick has advocated for a repeal and replacement of the medical device tax embedded within the ACA, and though the House plan calls for its repeal along with an ACA delay, Patrick said that is not the way the law should be improved.

“There is some concern about the impact of that tax on the industry and we have advocated for reconsideration of that and replacement of it with something else, but doing it while we’re trying to keep the government of the United States of America functioning is not constructive,” Patrick said.

Matt Murphy contributed reporting.

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