Leaders await shutdown news

Published 12:05 am Thursday, December 11, 2014

NATCHEZ — A showdown over money in the nation’s capitol has some local federal employees wondering if they’ll be sent home early for Christmas this year.

The continuing resolution that has funded the U.S. government in the absence of a budget is set to expire today. If Congress doesn’t adopt some kind of funding mechanism by midnight the government could enter into a partial shutdown of non-essential functions.

The agency most visibly affected locally by the last government shutdown was the National Park Service, which operates the Natchez National Historical Park and the Natchez Trace Parkway.

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“The last I have heard is that they have a bill, and a lot of people don’t like it but they will hold their nose and vote for it because some kind of funding needs to be in place,” Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said. “It’s still a nail-biter.”

The proposed $1.1 trillion spending bill drew vociferous objections from liberals and milder criticism from conservatives on Wednesday while lawmakers readied a brief, stopgap measure to prevent a government shutdown both parties vowed to avoid.

If some form of funding isn’t adopted in time, Jenkins said the NPS knows what to do after the 16-day shutdown in October 2013.

“Unfortunately we have done it enough that we know what to do — we lock the doors,” Jenkins said. “It’s a terrible time of year to send people home in a precarious position, not knowing if they are going to get paid.”

The NPS has 22 people on staff in the Natchez park, which includes Melrose the William Johnson House. The park lost an estimated $16,000 during the 2013 shutdown, which happened during the high-volume Fall Pilgrimage season.

“It is the holidays and people are in town, and this time of year we have the American Queen docking every Tuesday,” Jenkins said. “But once you become unreliable and can’t guarantee you’ll be there, the tour operators don’t want to come back to you. I think we are a great component of the tourism landscape here in Natchez, and I hate to see that ever tampered with.”

Natchez Trace Interim Superintendent Dale Wilkerson said he has not received any guidance about possible shutdown.

“Other than just seeing the news, there has been nothing else,” he said. “We have received no official word to prepare for a shutdown.”

During the 2013 shutdown, the restrooms, campgrounds and facilities on the Trace were closed.

Congress is expected to take up the 1,603-page measure — or a short-term extension to grant members more time to hash out the details — today.

Democrats complained bitterly about a Republican-backed provision in the $1.1 trillion measure to ease regulations imposed on big banks in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown. They also opposed a separate section that eases limits on campaign contributions to political parties.

The White House declined to state President Barack Obama’s position on the legislation, negotiated in secret over several days by senior lawmakers, including top leaders in both parties and both houses.

On the other side of the political spectrum, some conservatives grumbled that the measure left the administration’s controversial new immigration policy unchallenged, at least until the end of February.

Given the opposition of an unknown number of conservatives, House Speaker John Boehner and the Republican high command likely will need at least some Democratic support for the bill to assure its passage in a vote set for today.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.