Tourists irate as federal doors close in their faces


WASHINGTON -- By the busloads, tourists young and old from all over the country confronted a federal government out of business in the nation's capital yesterday -- and plenty of them didn't like it.

"Where can I go to picket?" asked Jeff Runz, a visitor from Pottersville, N.J., as he stood outside the National Air and Space Museum, which was closed by the government shutdown resulting from the budget deadlock between Congress and the White House.

"We're ready to start a protest," Mr. Runz said, as his wife, Karen, and three children sat on the front steps of the nation's most popular museum. "This is so Mickey Mouse."

Irritation overshadowed the glorious, summer-like day; many visitors expressed similar sentiments when they found the art galleries, museums and shrines on the Mall closed.

"People are mad -- fighting mad, and I mean it," said Fred Peterson, a burly Smithsonian Institution guard who stood sentry in front of a darkened Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Most tourists were clearly surprised to find the museums closed. When they learned that the closings resulted from the White House-Congress stalemate over a new federal budget, many criticized all sides unstintingly.

"Our government at work!" rasped Norman Benito, owner of a Santa Cruz, Calif., mortuary. "Our representatives -- they should thinkmore about the people."

"We're fed up," said Michael Camporeale, a Mount Vernon, Pa., assistant scoutmaster who had hoped to take his 27 charges for a tour of the White House.

"Can't we sweet-talk them?" Paul Grassi, 11, asked his leader, referring to the no-nonsense White House guards.

"Imagine it, the White House -- closed! It's really disappointing," said Anne Andrews, who was escorting a group of 23 senior citizens from Salem, Va. "It's terrible," added Lois Hurdle, one of the women in the group.

The group, bearing a letter from their congressman, had expected a VIP tour of the executive mansion. Instead, they clustered around Michael Mathews, their Insider Tour guide, on the sidewalk in front of the White House, straining to hear his talk.

"You only get to see five rooms in there anyway," Mr. Mathews told them.

"When the White House is closed, you got problems," said Henry Baxter, a veteran Silverline Tours driver.

Even the "comment line" at the White House, which is supposed to give ordinary citizens an opportunity to phone in to express their opinions, was shut down.

Those dialing the number yesterday heard this recorded message: "We regret we are unable to say when the comment lines will reopen -- due to Congress' failure to pass the budget resolution."

Predictably, that did not go over very well on Capitol Hill, where members such as Representative Mary Rose Oakar, D-Ohio, appeared to take umbrage at the implication that Congress was to blame. "That's an outrage," she said on hearing of the shutdown.

"It's time the president heard from the American people. Open the White House line -- override the veto!"

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