For the past 14 years, students at Trinity Lutheran School have taken an annual trip to the nation's capital to visit historical treasures like the Smithsonian museums, the presidential memorials and the hallowed halls of Congress.
But when the Cape Girardeau school sends its group of eighth-graders back to Washington, D.C., next week, a looming federal government shutdown may force them to scratch a few sites from the schedule.
If the government shuts down, so will many of the places the students want to see.
"This puts a damper on the plan," said Melanie Martens, a 20-year Trinity teacher. "The kids are excited about going and now the government can't get along, can't decide what to do? That's frustrating for them and for me."
A shutdown was looking increasingly likely Thursday as President Barack Obama and congressional leaders had yet to reach a deal on a spending bill to avert a shutdown. The deadline is midnight today, but talks continued to be stymied amid threats of a presidential veto and continued fighting between Republicans and Democrats over cuts and policy provisions.
If no compromise is reached and no stopgap funding bill approved, thousands of government employees will be furloughed and people will be shut out of such attractions as the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo and national parks. During the last shutdown 15 years ago, Park Service officials put up chains around the base of the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and closed off the sidewalks to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"I think it's horrible," said Elwood Voss, a 14-year-old student at Trinity. "We've been working pretty hard for this trip, doing fundraising. I think if we're going, we should get the full benefit of the trip, and we can't do that if the government is shut down."
The potential of a shutdown has sent ripples reaching into Southeast Missouri, affecting trips like the one planned by Trinity Lutheran and events planned by some area organizations.
It has caused a few panicky days for Stephen Hoffman, coordinator of the historic preservation program at Southeast Missouri State University. The university's historic preservation department is marking its 30th anniversary with a banquet and a guest speaker Saturday at the Cape Girardeau Country Club.
But the scheduled speaker is Steve Adams of the U.S. Park Service. Adams let the university know a couple of weeks ago that if the government shuts down, he will be unable to come and speak. Hoffman isn't sure why, exactly, but he suspects that Adams would not have access to a government car or couldn't be reimbursed for mileage.
Though the invitations all list Adams as the speaker, Hoffman has a backup plan. He's asked Dr. Frank Nickell, director of the university's Center for Regional History.
Hoffman said he's frustrated by what's happening in Washington.
"Personally, I feel like it's gamesmanship and political posturing," he said. "They're playing games with each other, and I don't think they realize it affects ordinary people. ... It's an unintended consequence, but they're not thinking about anybody. But we're going to get caught up in this."
At Trinity, Martens said the 18 students and seven adults will still take the trip, regardless of what the government does. The travel agency they work with has several contingency plans and she's been assured there will still be many sites still to see.
For example, they will take a day trip to Gettysburg, Pa., to visit the historic Civil War site. She also said they can visit the memorials, though they may not be able to get as close as they have in years past. U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson is also scheduled to visit with the students.
"There's some disappointment," Martens said. "But I'm confident we will find enough to do. We're still hoping the government might get its act together and figure out a budget."
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