PORT ANGELES — National Park Service sites will be closed to the public and most employees furloughed if Congress fails to pass a spending bill by midnight Saturday, something that appears all but inevitable.
If a lapse in funding does take place, it will go into effect at midnight Saturday and park employees will begin orderly shutdown operations on Sunday, according to Tommy Beaudreau, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior.
Beaudreau told reporters Thursday afternoon that most national parks will be closed to public access and visitor services will be significantly reduced.
“We are taking prudent steps to prepare for a lapse in funding which will severely impact every corner of our work, the people we work with and the sites we manage,” Beaudreau said.
“Gates will be locked, visitor centers will be closed and thousands of park rangers will be furloughed,” he warned while adding that he could not provide specific information for each park.
That includes the Olympic National Park, which measures nearly 1 million acres and is an attraction for residents and for tourists in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Sites which by their nature are difficult or impossible to close to the public — park roads, lookouts, trails, campgrounds and open-air memorials — will remain accessible, but the public is discouraged from visiting them, Beaudreau said.
Staffing levels and services including restroom and sanitation maintenance, trash collection, road maintenance, campground operations and emergency operations will vary and are not guaranteed.
Activities to protect life and property will continue at reduced levels, he said. These include law enforcement and some emergency services; border and coastal protection; fire suppression or monitoring for active fires; protection of federal lands, buildings and waterways; and activities that ensure the production and distribution of power.
Beaudreau said if an area or building is typically locked during non-business hours, members of the public can expect those facilities to remain locked during a government shutdown.
The Olympic Peninsula’s Congressional delegation — all Democrats — criticized Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives who were attempting to force a shutdown and called for bipartisanship to keep the government operating.
“I know there are colleagues concerned about doing more on border security — something I am willing to continue to discuss, but time is of the absolute essence here and a shutdown would mean the folks working at our southern border would be forced to work without paychecks,” said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Seattle, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, in a press release.
“A shutdown is no solution to anything,” Murray said.
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said a faction of House Republicans are prioritizing their own personal political agendas over people’s needs.
“(A shutdown) would harm people and essential services nationwide as thousands of hardworking Washingtonians would face furloughs, critical services would be disrupted, and our economy would take a major hit,” Kilmer said in a statement. “All because some politicians care more about scoring points than serving the people who elected them.”
On Thursday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy vowed he will not take up Senate legislation designed to keep the federal government fully running despite House Republicans’ struggle to unite around an alternative.
A disruptive federal shutdown would halt paychecks for many of the federal government’s roughly 2 million employees, as well as 2 million active-duty military troops and reservists, furlough many of those workers and curtail government services.
The House and Senate were pursuing different paths to avert those consequences even though time is running out before government funding expires after midnight Saturday.
The Senate worked toward passage of a bipartisan measure that would fund the government until Nov. 17 as longer-term negotiations continue, while also providing $6 billion for Ukraine and $6 billion for U.S. disaster relief.
The House, meanwhile, has teed up votes on four of the dozen annual spending bills that fund various agencies in hopes that would cajole enough Republicans to support a House-crafted continuing resolution that temporarily funds the government and boosts security at the U.S. border with Mexico.
It’s a longshot, but McCarthy predicted a deal.
“Put your money on me we’re going to get this done,” he said in a CNBC interview. “I think we can work through the weekend. I think we can figure this out.”
With his majority splintering, McCarthy is scrambling to come up with a plan for preventing a shutdown and win Republican support. The speaker told Republicans he would reveal a Republican stopgap plan, known as a continuing resolution, or CR, today, according to those in the room, while also trying to force Senate Democrats into giving some concessions.
Many GOP lawmakers were withholding support for a temporary measure until they had a chance to see it. Others were considering joining Democrats, without McCarthy’s support, to bring forward a bill that would prevent a shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Congress and the White House had already worked out top-line spending levels for next year with an agreement this summer that allowed the government to continue borrowing to pay its bills. But McCarthy was deviating from that deal and courting a shutdown by catering to Republicans who say it didn’t do enough to cut spending, he said.
“By focusing on the views of the radical few instead of the many, Speaker McCarthy has made a shutdown far more likely,” Schumer said.
McCarthy reiterated to CNBC that the House will have its say. “Will I accept and surrender to what the Senate decides? The answer is no, we’re our own body.”
President Joe Biden sought to apply more pressure on McCarthy, urging him to compromise with Democrats even though that could threaten his job.
“I think that the speaker is making a choice between his speakership and American interests,” Biden said.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.