Americans are angry and worried as the deadline in the US budget crisis draws near. US lawmakers meanwhile seek a last-minute deal to avert a default on US obligations and to reopen the government.
Monster trucks against the government shutdown: truckers honked their horns in protest, US flags streaming in the wind, and drove endless rounds on the Beltway that encircles the capital. "We're fed up with a government that doesn't adhere to the Constitution," a Virginia truck driver grumbles. "They don't stick to the oath they swore, like I did when I joined the army."
The truckers were protesting against the government and a budget crisis that has led to a virtual standstill in Washington. In Congress, however, no one hears their blaring horns - the lawmakers' offices are empty. For two weeks now, a good part of the administration has been paralyzed because Democrats and Republicans have not managed to come to an agreement. If the parties don't strike a deal by Thursday (17.10.2013), default threatens in addition to the current partial government shutdown. Americans are increasingly angered by the political drama in Washington - and they fear the day when the world's largest economy faces default.
An irate retiree from Kentucky stands in front of the empty Capitol building, railing against the delegates: "They should all be fired and replaced." A woman who works in the health sector agrees: "It's a horrible way to run a country." Many US organizations worry that millions of poor Americans will be the losers in the budget poker, she says.
The hundreds-of-thousands of furloughed federal employees are hardest-hit by the shutdown. Staring through the fence at the White House, an elderly man warns everyone is going to be affected in one way or the other. "I'm a federal retiree and I won't get my social security check. I won't get my pension check."
Emily Dougherty will never forget the day she was called to her workplace in a government agency for one hour, only to clear her desk and leave the following message on the answering machine: "I will not be at my desk or returning your call. I will return your call when I return from the shutdown." The 25-year-old handed over her keys and office cell phone. She says staying at home without pay is depleting her budget. Emily no longer visits restaurants, and she has been postponing expensive doctor's visits. She never thought she would be furloughed for more than a few days: "Now we've entered the third week."
Emily remembers waking up on October 1, and realizing that her "perception of our government-system that had been a ship and staying on course had kind of shifted and changed." It was unsettling, the young woman says: "You felt like you'd hit something."
Race against the clock
Many Americans may feel they've hit a brick wall should Congress not agree to lift the $16.7 (1.23 trillion euros) debt ceiling by Thursday. In that case, the US could no longer borrow new money. In early November at the latest, experts say, Washington will no longer be in a position to fulfil its financial obligations.
"That is an insane scenario," a tourist from Tennessee says. Many visitors gathered at the fence around the White house on that morning agree: "It would have a devastating effect on our economy and possibly the entire world."
Businesses are concerned - and so are small investors like Robert, who works at a travel agency. His bank advisor recommended the travel agent diversify his portfolio "with what's called precious metals, which is gold and other metals, to provide an additional layer of security, should the government default on October 17." Fearing long lines at cash machines, Robert has already withdrawn several hundred dollars.
On Tuesday, however, lawmakers appeared close to a deal to avoid the self-inflicted political calamity, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell working to hammer out a last-minute compromise to avert the fiasco.
According to US media reports, the most recent proposal foresees funding government operations through January 15 and raising the debt ceiling through February 7. Both camps would negotiate the across-the-board "sequester" spending cuts that took effect earlier this year. Small changes in President Obama's health reform are also expected.
As "a federal employee and as an American," Emily Dougherty is nervous about the wrangling over the debt-ceiling. "I'm the next generation," she says. "We're going to bear the brunt of whatever the ramifications are."