National parks were shut, their visitors asked to leave. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services closed its refuges during duck hunting season. The Smithsonian museums and the Washington Monument closed.
And a caller with a Yosemite National Park reservation cursed out the deputy secretary of the interior, one John Garamendi, who remembers replying, “Call Newt Gingrich.”
That was 17 years ago, during the last federal government shutdown. Garamendi was two months into his new appointment at the U.S. Department of the Interior. Its headquarters stood empty, except for him, Secretary Bruce Babbitt and a handful assistants.
“It was a mess,” said Rep. Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove.
It’s a mess that looks likely to repeat itself come 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. More than 800,000 federal workers face furloughs. Many more would find themselves working without pay.
The Republican led House voted 231 to 192 on Saturday to approve a one-year delay in the Affordable Care Act and 248 to 174 repeal of a medical equipment tax that helps fund the law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the White House declared both non-starters hours before, a stance Garamendi supported.
If there is a government shutdown, the congressman said Saturday afternoon, the UC Davis Health System would go largely unaffected, as Medicare and Medicaid payments will continue. UCD’s research would not be hurt in the near term, except for grants in the pipeline.
It’s unclear, however, what will happen to the Pell Grant and federal student loan programs.
Social Security checks would continue to go out, but no staff will be on hand to take calls or fix problems, he said.
The House also voted unanimously Saturday to continue paying troops in the event of a shutdown. Many of the 2,058 civilian employees at Travis and Beale air force bases will face furlough, however, with no promise of eventually receiving back pay.
Veterans Administration hospitals will remain open, but the furlough of about 62,000 employees nationally would further delay claims.
Garamendi, who has voted 44 times, by his count, against efforts to gut Obamacare, called the GOP’s latest move “foolish and, in many ways, nonsensical.”
“All of the benefits that are already in place would presumably be set aside — children with pre-existing conditions being insured, children staying on their family’s insurance until they’re 26, (closing) the (Medicare prescription) doughnut hole,” he said.
“You’re taking away important benefits for every senior citizen, children born with a medical condition, people with pre-existing conditions, on and on and on, as well as programs that deal with hospital health, for example, the infection (prevention) program.”
Garamendi said he hasn’t resigned himself to a shutdown — “sanity could creep back into the situation” — but he believes the tea party faction has wrested control of the Republican caucus from House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
“I think he’s going to be faced with a decision: Is he the speaker of the whole House or is he the leader of a kamikaze caucus?” said Garamendi, referencing a recent Wall Street Journal editorial comparing some in Congress to suicide pilots slamming themselves into Obamacare.
Another problem for him: prolonging sequestration.
The Senate bill continues those automatic budget cuts for another month; the House is likely to match that, at least.
“It’s bad enough that there are reductions — but they’re across-the-board reductions,” he said. “If they rewrote this $982 billion (short-term spending bill) and gave the departments discretion to allocate the cuts, for a month or two months, I could go for that.
“I’m doing everything I can to find a middle ground, to find an appropriate compromise,” Garamendi added, “but beware of rigid ideology.”
— Reach Cory Golden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden