US govt shutdown: 'From now on, we are not paid'

The White House is seen behind a stop sign in Washington, DC, as the federal shutdown began. Photo / AFP
The White House is seen behind a stop sign in Washington, DC, as the federal shutdown began. Photo / AFP

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Washington's subway was filled as usual today with resigned workers trekking to their desks, but on this day they arrived only to lock up and leave "out of office" messages.

Sporting security badges and clutching backpacks as on any other weekday, disgruntled federal employees accused Congress of making them forego pay indefinitely due to a bitter budget deadlock.

Read: Why is the US government headed for (another) shutdown?

US President Barack Obama this morning slammed Republicans for shutting down the government as part of an "ideological crusade'' designed to kill his signature health care law.

"I urge House Republicans to reopen the government,'' Obama said at the White House, as he highlighted a major portion of the health reform program which came into force on today.


"This Republican shutdown did not have to happen - I want every American to understand why it did happen,'' Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.

"They have shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable healthcare to millions of Americans.''

The stock market remained calm upon opening this morning, suggesting that, at least for now, investors aren't anticipating that the stalemate would cause enough disruption in the economy to threaten a gradual US recovery and a four-year bull run in the stock market.

WORKERS: 'DIRE CONSEQUENCES'

"They are not doing their job and now they are preventing us from doing our jobs," said an incensed Christine Baughman, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Railing against both Republicans and Democrats, Baughman - who experienced the last shutdown 17 years ago - told AFP passing a budget is not President Barack Obama's job, "it's Congress' job."

And inaction has dire consequences for many, she added.

"From now on, we are not paid," she said on the first day of the new fiscal year and the first day of an indefinite government shutdown that has seen around 800,000 workers sent home.

"We all have to save money of course, and I feel sorry for all those people having automatic deductions on their accounts because the next pay check they'll get is going to be ... no more than half and, of course, if it extends, then they'll get nothing," she said.

Another EPA employee, who declined to give her name, described what she - and likely some, if not all, of the other furloughed federal employees - were being told to do.

"They've asked us to show up and close down and secure our offices," she said as a security guard at the agency's entrance wished her a good morning.

"We're supposed to put a voicemail on our machine saying that we're gone," she added.

But not all federal employees will have to stay home.

Carlos Matuz, an auditor at USAID, the US Agency for International Development, was on a list of personnel deemed essential and therefore required to report for duty.

"My job is considered an essential job, so I have to work whether there's a shutdown or not," he said. "You have to continue to keep the country moving."

But, he added: "It's bad all around ... I don't get involved in politics, I just come to work."

Aside from the slew of government agencies, all museums that are part of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution have been shuttered until further notice.

This disappointed the hordes of tourists and school classes who flock to Washington to visit the wide array of free exhibits.

Outside the National Museum of American History, four security guards stopped perplexed visitors from going inside.

Washington's slew of memorials on the National Mall - an expanse of greenery facing the US Capitol - are also off-limits thanks to the shutdown, with yellow police tape keeping tourists at bay.

"Police Line Do Not Cross," it read ominously.

In front of the Lincoln Memorial, Ray, a native of Los Angeles who was vacationing on the East Coast with his family, couldn't hide his dismay.

"I was hoping to see it," he said.

- AFP

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