WASHINGTON — Facing withering criticism from House Republicans, the director of the National Park Service Tuesday rejected suggestions the agency purposely hyped the negative impact of mandatory spending reductions for political gain.
Automatic cuts to the agency, said Park Service chief Jon Jarvis, are ‘‘painful by definition. We have worked to try and minimize that pain, but I will tell you that we have not instructed anyone to intentionally make this painful to the public.’’
Republicans were skeptical, pointing out that an official in Jarvis’s budget office last week told the House oversight committee staff 99 percent of park visitors won’t even notice the effects of the budget reductions, known as sequestration.
Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina, questioned whether the Park Service was using the ‘‘Washington Monument syndrome” — the public relations technique of highlighting visible and popular places and services that are about to closed or scaled back. Meadows said permanent signs have gone up at a park in his district that say operations are closing due to the budget cuts.
‘‘Why would you say that would happen if indeed we were not trying to make a political statement?’’ Meadows asked Jarvis.
The back-and-forth is part of a broader struggle to pin blame for policymaking on the other party, a familiar Washington exercise that has inspired deep public resentment of Congress. In this case, it’s about the consequences of gridlock: sequestration, or automatic spending cuts, that began taking effect March 1. No one knows the full impact of the cuts in political terms because many of the reductions have yet to take effect. So lawmakers and President Obama’s administration are bickering over which Americans will feel the pinch, how acutely, and who is at fault.
Sequestration is the result of Congress’s failure to trim the growth of the deficit by $1.2 trillion over a decade. Federal agency budgets will be cut by $85 billion by the end of September, and additional spending cuts would come in future years as long as the sequester remains in effect.
Jarvis’s agency manages the country’s 401 national parks, including iconic sites such as Yosemite National Park in California and the Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts. The agency is being forced to slash $153 million from its $2.5 billion budget through September, and Jarvis has warned the reductions will mean millions of visitors will encounter fewer rangers, find restrooms locked, and see trash cans emptied less often.
The Park Service took belt-tightening measures last year — before the spending cuts appeared to be inevitable — to deal with the possibility of smaller budgets, Jarvis said. He estimated these steps, which include leaving close to 900 permanent Park Service jobs unfilled, hiring a thousand fewer seasonal employees, and cutting back on travel, overtime, supplies and equipment, will generate more than $63 million in savings. Park Service employees and officers face furloughs of 14 days.
Leaving so many permanent positions unfilled and having fewer seasonal employees will mean delayed road openings, reduced hours of operation, and fewer patrols, Jarvis said. Vacant natural resource positions will make it difficult for parks to collect water quality data and monitor the condition of threatened and endangered species. Guided park programs and opportunities for direct contact with park rangers will also be reduced, he said.
WASHINGTON — Gabrielle Giffords, the wounded former representative, and her husband, Mark Kelly, met Tuesday with the two senators sponsoring a compromise on expanding background checks for gun buyers.
The session comes as Senators Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, try to figure out how to push their background check measure through the Senate.
‘‘They’re helping immensely just by being here and talking to our colleagues,’’ Manchin said after the 15-minute session in his Senate office. ‘‘We’re close but we sure need their help.’’
Giffords and Kelly, a retired astronaut, have formed a political committee that supports candidates who back gun restrictions. Giffords, a Democratic former congresswoman from Arizona, was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson.
‘‘I think we’ll get there,’’ Kelly said.
The Manchin-Toomey measure would expand background checks to gun shows and the Internet. They are currently required only for sales handled by licensed gun dealers. Supporters consider the system a good way to keep firearms from criminals, while opponents say the system does not work.