It’s a comfortably cool, bright-blue autumn day in Manhattan, and a steady stream of tourists is taking the ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – both part of the federally run national park system that will likely close their gates to visitors Tuesday if members of Congress do not come to terms to avoid a government shutdown.
But as the GOP-led House and the Democrat-led Senate on Monday volley competing bills back and forth that would keep the government running, like a tennis game played with at least two different balls in motion simultaneously, most observers believe that visitors to New York will have to find something else to see come Tuesday.
Such a government shutdown would be a bad thing for the country, nearly 70 percent of Americans believe, even if it lasts for just a few days, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released Monday. So far, an agreement to prevent the shutdown Tuesday of nonessential government services has eluded lawmakers in Washington.
“I don’t think we should have Obamacare, but I’d be mad if they shut down the Statue of Liberty,” says Pam Taylor, an executive administrative assistant from Houston, as she waits for a ferry to the iconic monument in full view in front of her. “I mean, I really hope they don’t shut everything down, though. I think it would cause a lot of heartache and undue problems – things that shouldn’t have to happen.”
The budget showdown has been tied to the dispute over Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), which House Republicans have sought to defund or delay as a condition of funding the government. Notably, the health-reform law's signature insurance marketplaces, or "exchanges," are set to go live online on the very day a government shutdown would kick in. Most uninsured Americans must buy a health-care plan on their state’s insurance exchange or pay a tax penalty starting in 2014.
The CNN poll found that the public is growing more skeptical of Obamacare – 57 percent say they oppose the law, up 3 percentage points from a poll in May. But 6 of 10 say it is more important to avoid a shutdown than to make major changes to the health-care law.
One-third of those polled said it is more important for Congress to gut the law’s provisions by cutting its funding. This has been the primary goal of House Republicans, who have voted to repeal the 2010 health-care law at least 42 times, even though such legislation stands no chance of winning approval in the Senate, let alone President Obama’s signature.
So despite Obamacare’s unpopularity, 46 percent of Americans would blame Republicans for a shutdown, while 36 percent would blame Mr. Obama, the CNN poll shows. That outcome is similar to the finding of a CBS News/New York Times survey released late last week, which showed 44 percent blaming congressional Republicans and 35 percent blaming the president.
“We elect the wrong people to be our leaders,” says Peter Banwer, a registered Republican from Edison, N.J., who works in New York City’s human resources administration. “They go on in there and toy with us and toy with the economy – all the right people we need don’t want anything to do with political positions or make the political policies.
“There’s just no good reason to shut everything down,” Mr. Banwer continues as he breaks for an early lunch in the park across the harbor from the Statue of Liberty. “If Obamacare was a good reason, I could get behind it, but there is none – it’s here to stay. Now having this business about a government shutdown, it’s just messing with people and and playing games with people’s salary.”
Most of the tourists near the Statue of Liberty Monday were from outside the US – and many expressed bafflement when they heard of the budget battle to delay and defund the health-care law. Among the Americans who were visiting the site, most expressed disdain and contempt for Congress, regardless of their political affiliation.
“It’s disgusting and disgraceful, because none of the politicians are doing anything for the good of the country per se,” says Karin Smiley, a long-time Bronx resident now living in Germany, and back to stay with relatives who lost their homes last year during superstorm Sandy. “They’re fighting so much among themselves, they’re forgetting about America, and that’s very sad,” says Ms. Smiley, who says she votes in local and national elections from her home overseas.
Almost 70 percent of those polled by CNN said Republicans in Congress are acting like spoiled children, compared with 47 percent who said this about Obama, and 58 percent who said that of congressional Democrats.
Almost half said Obama is acting like a responsible adult in this budget battle, while 25 percent said congressional Republicans are acting responsibly, according to the CNN poll.
Even some respondents who describe themselves as Republicans see House GOP members unfavorably, along with the effect of the tea party movement.
“I’m just not happy with the Republicans,” says Banwer. “Even being one, I don’t like the effect of the tea party – I just feel that the party is way too far to the right in Congress, and I just don’t think they open their eyes to the average person on the street.” Ms. Taylor, the Houstonian and a Republican, also says she “could do without the tea party.”
Some other visitors to Lady Liberty were more supportive of the House Republicans' stand.
“I think the tea party served a purpose, because the moderate Republicans weren’t doing anything – they didn’t seem to have a position that didn’t change each day,” says John De Felice, a retired school administrator from California. “I don’t like the extreme elements of the tea party, but I think you need some kind of catalyst to get stuff done.
“But somewhere it’s got to end,” he says of the budget impasse and looming government shutdown. “Obviously, more of the same is not what anyone wants. There has to be compromise, but they don’t ever seem to get off crises. Their solution to a crisis is another crisis.”