Members of the Arkansas congressional delegation waited in vain Saturday in Washington for congressional leaders and the White House to resolve their budgetary impasse.
With no votes scheduled and no solutions in sight, they began heading home for Christmas, promising to return as soon as they are summoned.
Flights to Arkansas are possible during the partial government shutdown because Transportation Security Administration screeners and Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers have been deemed essential federal employees.
Lawmakers say they'll be monitoring developments, and they'll have their luggage ready in case they need to fly back to Washington on short notice.
"I'll spend the holiday on alert, ready to go back if necessary," said U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, a Republican from Jonesboro.
He isn't expecting Congress to act before Thursday, though.
Crawford flew out of Washington on Saturday morning after it became clear that no votes would be taken on measures to halt the shutdown that started at midnight Friday.
"I'm going to try and unplug and spend time with my family like most people will, but I'm ready to [return] at a moment's notice and get back to work and try to resolve this issue."
U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Hot Springs, boarded a flight to Arkansas on Saturday afternoon.
"The Senate didn't look like they were going to get anything done, so I thought I'd go home," Westerman said, during a layover in Atlanta. "As soon as I get the message that we're going to do something, I'll be heading back to D.C. Whenever that is."
The financial procrastination on Capitol Hill is a sore spot for Westerman.
"I wish we could get the funding wrapped up in September every year. If you look at the big picture, that's when it's supposed to happen," he said.
Asked if he relished the prospects of a Capitol Hill Christmas, Westerman said, "Not particularly."
"I'd much rather be in Arkansas with my family than in D.C. -- whether it's Christmas or any other time of the year," he said.
U.S. Rep. French Hill stayed in Washington on Saturday, pausing to take in a basketball contest between the UALR Trojans and the Georgetown Hoyas.
The visitors lost 102-94 in overtime.
"It was a very exciting game. The Trojans played the Hoyas just point for point," the Republican from Little Rock said.
Hill said he plans to fly home to Arkansas this morning. He'll return to Washington once a vote has been scheduled, he said.
For now the ball is in the Democrats' court, Hill suggested.
"Just as soon as possible and practical, I hope that the Senate Democrats will come up with a plan that at least 10 of them will support to find middle ground and get the government reopened," he said.
The budget standoff was already being felt Saturday in Arkansas, including at some of the state's tourist attractions.
The partial government shutdown has affected nonessential government employees in several agencies, including the National Park Service and the National Archives.
The Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock will mostly close until the shutdown ends, but its restaurant and gift shop will stay open and offer "shutdown specials," officials said Saturday.
The Central High School National Historic Site in Little Rock was closed Saturday, with signs taped on each door telling visitors that it was shut down "because of a lapse in federal appropriations."
Among those disappointed to find the doors locked was Oddette Adderley, a 53-year-old history teacher from Miami who stopped there as part of a driving tour of historic sites with her 21-year-old daughter. They drove from Memphis on Saturday and learned upon arrival in Little Rock that they couldn't get into the museum, which sits just northeast of Central High School.
Adderley said she knew about the shutdown, but it "wasn't connected to me that this was a federal property until we got here."
She said she's taught about Central High School and the Little Rock Nine in her classes, and had looked forward to seeing the museum and picking up some souvenirs from its gift shop.
"I'm disgusted," Adderley said, sitting in her SUV outside. "I'm beyond disappointed. This is a momentous thing for me."
Elsewhere in Arkansas, Hot Springs National Park is set to remain accessible to visitors, with some changes. Emergency and rescue services will be limited, the park said in a statement, and all park programs have been canceled. National Park Service-provided visitor services -- including restrooms, trash collection and maintenance -- won't be offered.
At the Clinton Center, the permanent and temporary exhibits will be closed until the shutdown ends.
The center said the restaurant, 42 Bar and Table, will offer daily specials. The special Saturday was a grilled cheeseburger -- a burger pressed between two grilled cheese sandwiches. The gift store in the center's lobby will offer a 42 percent discount on most items.
The center is one of Little Rock's top tourist attractions and has drawn more than 4.5 million visitors since it opened in 2004.
The center, restaurant and gift shop will be closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
At least one federally funded program in the state won't be affected by the shutdown. The Arkansas Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program said its services and benefits will go on as usual.
A Section on 12/23/2018
Print Headline: State D.C. leaders tire of wait, head home; shutdown felt in Arkansas