Photo: Jared Soares for USA Today
WASHINGTON -- The Republican National Committee is offering to pay security expenses so the World War II Memorial is open for visitors during the government shutdown.
Wednesday's offer from RNC Chairman Reince Preibus was dismissed by Democrats as a stunt. Priebus said the GOP has set aside funds to hire five security guards for the memorial.
Barricades have been placed around the World War II Memorial and other popular tourist attractions because of the shutdown. The 330 federal employees who work at the National Mall and its memorials have been placed on furlough.
The World War II Memorial became a visible symbol of the shutdown's impact Tuesday when 91 veterans from Mississippi crossed the barricades with the help of members of Congress so they could tour the site.
The veterans, some in wheelchairs, came to Washington via the Honor Flight program, which sponsors one-day trips for World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans so they can visit the monuments dedicated to their service.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress were unable to agree on a stopgap spending bill to fund the government before the new fiscal year began on Tuesday, which is why the shutdown began. President Obama has rebuffed House GOP proposals attached to the bill that would gut his health care law.
"The Obama administration has decided they want to make the government shutdown as painful as possible, even taking the unnecessary step of keeping the Greatest Generation away from a monument built in their honor," Priebus said. "That's not right, and it's not fair."
Mo Elleithee, communications director for the Democratic National Committee, called on Republicans to urge House Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote on a stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, without any restrictions.
"We've already been working on a plan to open the Memorial - and the entire government - after the GOP caused them to close," Elleithee said in a statement. "It's called a clean funding resolution and it sounds like the votes are there if the speaker would just call for a vote. It would save the economy a lot of money and get the Memorial and government open a whole lot faster."
Veterans from Missouri, Illinois and Michigan entered the closed memorial Wednesday, Day 2 of the government shutdown. National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson told ABC News that the Honor Flights are being granted access to the memorial "to conduct First Amendment activities."
"These soldiers gave everything in fighting for our freedom and the thought that they would not be allowed into their memorial because of the partisan divide in Washington is beyond the pale," said Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who visited with the Illinois veterans at the memorial.