There are "Closed" signs
in front of the Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty. NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency are operating with skeleton staffs. Some 800,000 federal workers are off the job, and others are at work with no idea when they will be paid.
While we still will receive mail and air traffic controllers will remain on the job, much of the federal government has been shut down at the behest of Republicans in the House whose opposition to "Obamacare" fueled a budget impasse that has gone to the brink and beyond.
This is the first shutdown since a budget battle between Republicans tangled with President Bill Clinton in the winter of 1995-1996. The tactic, championed by Speaker Newt Gingrich, ultimately backfired on the GOP.
Whether history ultimately will repeat itself remains to be seen. How long the present shutdown will last -- and how it will be resolved -- also is anyone's guess. Both sides seem to have dug in for a siege.
"You may see a partial shutdown for several days," Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told Fox News. "People are going to realize they can live with a lot less government."
While conservatives such as Blackburn may find "a lot less government" the proverbial silver lining in the budget battle, we find little to cheer about the inability of Congress to reach an agreement that would allow the government to continue to function. Is it any wonder why government is held in such low esteem by so many?
Republicans, especially the Tea Party wing, continue to overlook the fact that President Barack Obama has an electoral mandate, one that was soundly reaffirmed less than a year ago, and will not accede to the dismantling of the signature accomplishment of his presidency. Obamacare isn't going to go away; millions of Americans began the enrollment process Tuesday as medical insurance exchanges went into operation.
Democrats, for their part, need to find some way to reach out to relatively moderate Republicans to resolve the differences that led to the shutdown. A Democratic majority in the Senate is an important trump card, but a way must be found to forge a working bi-partisan majority in the GOP-controlled House. A generation ago, Bill Clinton -- like Ronald Reagan before him -- proved adept at coalition-building; Barack Obama is not nearly as skilled.
Chances are Obama and the Democrats likely will prevail. The president, for his part, can't afford to back down in a confrontation that he has likened to hostage-taking, "You don't get to extract a ransom for doing your job, for doing what you're supposed to be doing anyway, or just because there's a law there that you don't like," he said Monday.
House Speaker John Boehner, whose control over the GOP caucus is tenuous, has said he didn't want a government shutdown. It is in his interest to find some way toward a compromise ending the stalemate. The longer it goes on, the greater the chances of a backlash similar to the one that ultimately derailed the "Gingrich Revolution."
Our guess is that Washington will find a way to muddle through the mess until a compromise is reached and funding can resume.
In the meantime, of course, unlike thousands of other federal workers, members of Congress will continue to receive their paychecks, exempt -- as usual -- from the regulations bringing a taste of "a lot less government" to others in Washington.