Congress knew park closures were coming if a government shutdown happened, White House press secretary Jay Carney told TheBlaze, after a weekend that saw military veterans remove barricades from the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, and just ahead of a congressional hearing investigating park closures nationwide.
U.S. Park Ranger Richard Trott places a closed sign on a barricade in front of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., Oct. 1, 2013. (AFP/Getty Images)
“Everything was briefed to Congress about the impacts of the shutdown would be,” Carney told TheBlaze. “This was their choice. They did not have to shut down the government because they couldn't get Obamacare repealed through Congress, because they couldn't get it repealed through the ballot box. So they chose to shut down the government with all of the consequences of that because they couldn't get what they wanted through other means.”
The House Natural Resources Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a joint investigative hearing Wednesday on why 401 national parks and monuments across the country were not only closed but barricaded and secured from public access. The barricading did not occur during the 1995 government shutdown.
“As I'm sure you will make crystal clear in your article, the leaders of the House of Representatives made a decision not to allow a vote for a clean extension of government funding,” Carney said in an interview late Tuesday afternoon, a day ahead of the hearing. “Because of that decision, the government shut down. There are a huge number of consequences to that. One of them is the effect on National Park Service staff and on memorials.”
One of the questions that Congress has been unsuccessful in finding out thus far from the National Park Service or the Department of Interior is the cost of closing, barricading and providing security to the open-air parks and monuments compared to just leaving them open.
Last week, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) told TheBlaze, “It would appear logically that the cost of barriers and security could cost more than simply leaving open. We’ve asked the National Park Service and unfortunately we haven’t gotten answers.”
Carney said he did not have a cost comparison.
“As far as what costs are associated with it, if members of Congress are concerned about the consequences of shutdown, as we are, just open the government,” Carney said. “Open the government at funding levels that Republicans celebrated as their own.”
Earlier this month, 23 Democrats joined the House Republican majority in voting to keep the national parks open, but the Democrat-controlled Senate would not allow the bill to come to the floor.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said in a statement last week, “The National Park Service’s decision to barricade the normally unattended open air memorials on the National Mall, including the World War II Memorial, is only one example of the many drastic and unprecedented steps the Park Service has taken during the current lapse in appropriations.”
On Oct. 2, the second day of the partial government shutdown, Hastings asked in a letter to National Parks Service Director Jonathan Jarvis why public access to the World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and other sites on the National Mall were barricaded.
More recently, reports surfaced that scenic overviews, including those overlooking Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, were blocked.
The Interior Department announced last Thursday they were in early-stage talks with Arizona, Colorado, Utah and South Dakota about allowing the state governments to maintain the parks.
Some parks are privately funded through nonprofit foundations but sit on federal property — essentially making Uncle Sam a landlord -- and were forced to close during the shutdown. Among them are the Claude More Colonial Farms in McLean, Va.; the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center and Avon Pier in Cape Hatteras, N.C.; the Pisgah Inn in Brevard, N.C.; Mt. Vernon in Alexandria, Va.; Glen Echo Park in Montgomery County, Md.; and City Tavern in Philadelphia.