Optimistic tension surfaced from Key West to Florida Bay Wednesday as Coast Guardsmen, sailors and backcountry fishing guides scoured the latest headlines out of Washington, D.C. -- a possible deal in the Senate could break the 16-day partial government shutdown.
News broke about lunchtime Wednesday that senators brokered a deal to end the shutdown just as the federal government stood on the brink of defaulting today and losing its ability to borrow more money to pay bills by today.
"I am very grateful that we will avoid a default that would not only hurt the people of this country but would irreparably damage the financial foundation of this nation," U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. said in a prepared statement. "But this should have never happened in the first place."
Nelson pulled few punches in his distaste for what has transpired over the last three weeks.
"You don't hold the country hostage and disrupt people's lives to get your particular agenda done," Nelson said. "Particularly when you're dealing with an existing law that has been upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court. But that's exactly what has happened. We are now in a situation, in the politics of this country, where certain special interests claim that their position is the only position. And to have that reflected up here in the Congress so that a narrow, small group of extremists' political ideology can direct the affairs of the Congress. And that group, especially in the House, can cause the trauma and the turmoil that we've been through. Now, we apparently have an agreement. I assume that we are going to vote on that in the Senate and it should pass overwhelmingly sometime today."
Whether or not the deal will pass the House of Representatives remained murky Wednesday evening, but U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-South Florida, was among those optimistic.
"While these last three weeks have been a challenging time for America, I fully support the Senate deal and am glad to see the Senate come together in a bipartisan manner to end this reckless, destructive shutdown and avoid a potential default," Garcia said in a prepared statement. "I hope the House of Representatives will pass this legislation as expeditiously as possible."
Coast Guard Sector Key West commanding officer Capt. Al Young had TV news on in his office all day, he said. The Coast Guard is a critical service and they remain operational during shutdowns, but the shutdown did furlough some of its civilian workers.
"We're going to do what we need to do, but what gets concerning is that we have people (furloughed) in support capacities who lend their expertise on keeping some of these cutters that are 20 to 30 years old operating," Young said. "We need -- the federal government needs -- appropriations to operate, so of course this is positive news."
The shutdown shuttered the Dry Tortugas and Everglades national parks, but how soon the parks could reopen was unclear Wednesday, said Everglades National Park Superintendent Dan Kimball.
"At this point, I'm monitoring the situation and I have a commitment to visitors and users of the parks to open as soon as we can," Kimball said, urging furloughing employees to monitor the hotline and to follow news closely. "We're going to open as soon as we can. We're very hopeful it's going to be soon."
No one was more interested in the parks re-opening than the Upper Keys fishing guides who depend on the Everglades National Park waters in Florida Bay.
Randy Towe, an Islamorada-based backcountry guide and one of the organizers of the recent 100-plus boat rally last week in Florida Bay, and his fellow guides, were chomping on the hook to get their boats back in park waters.
"I've been getting a lot of phone calls and emails from the guys today (Wednesday) asking if this is really true," Towe said. "It's important for this to happen and it can't happen quick enough. It's exciting and it's great news, but whenever we're dealing with government things can change at the last minute."
Meanwhile, Naval Air Station Key West fighter jet training operations didn't change much during the shutdown as many non-essential civilian workers such as public affairs and other administrative staff were furloughed from Oct. 1 through Oct. 4.
"I'm hopeful the latest proposal will pass and all government employees will be allowed to get back to work," said NAS Key West commanding officer Capt. Steve McAlearney. "At NAS Key West, we have continued to execute our mission, but a continued shutdown or a default would have put us in uncharted territory. Morale and paychecks have been negatively affected, and it pains me that our professional and patriotic civilian employees have taken the brunt of these high-level budget battles."