WASHINGTON— With the National Park Service under fire from Republicans for how it's gone about shuttering parks and monuments it operates during the 16-day-old government shutdown, Democratic lawmakers and the director of the NPS on Wednesday fiercely defended the agency's actions.
Democrats blasted Republican Reps. Darrell Issa, of California, and Doc Hastings, of Washington, for calling a joint hearing on the issue while the U.S. government is just hours away from hitting the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling.
On Wednesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced a deal to end the shutdown and avert a government default. But House and Senate leaders were still negotiating how to maneuver the package through both chambers and get it to President Obama's desk as soon as possible.
Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio, who was among the the Democrats to say they were flabbergasted by the timing of hearing, called on Republican lawmakers to literally take a look in the mirror.
"If you want to spend your time here dissecting individual decisions about what monuments are open, which are closed, let me save you some time," said DeFazio, of Oregon, as he held up a mirror during Wednesday's hearing. "Our National Park System is surprisingly part of our government, which you shut down."
Republican lawmakers have pilloried the Obama administration for barricading the World War II Memorial, where in the first days of the shutdown some veterans of the war were turned away from the monument.
The Park Service and Interior Department have also faced criticism for taking 10 days to agree to allow states and local communities to pay to reopen the more than 400 parks and monuments that were closed by the shutdown.
Hastings, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, charged the Obama administration has unnecessarily closed parks and barricaded monuments to make the shutdown as painful and visible as possible.
"The actions of the Obama administration have sullied our great national park system," Hastings said.
NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis denied the charge that the closures were politically motivated. Most the Park Service's 20,000 employees have been furloughed during the shutdown severely limiting operations, he said.
"Given the limited staff resources during the shutdown, prudent and practical steps were taken to secure life and property at these national icons where security has become increasingly complex in a post-9/11 world," Jarvis said.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's Democratic non-voting congressional delegate, said Republicans blaming the National Park Service for closing the parks is "like voting for capital punishment and then blaming the hangman as capital punishment proceeds."