WASHINGTON – A collective sense of relief resonated across the nation Saturday, now that a federal government shutdown is merely a thought of what could have been.
Thousands of tourists poured into the Smithsonian museums in Washington — which would have been shuttered without Friday's late-night budget deal — to see artifacts like the original "Star-Spangled Banner" flag. And military families won't have to stock their freezers, not knowing when they might have another paycheck to put food on the table.
The only thing that rivals their comfort? Widespread disgust, knowing that political bickering made them cringe in the first place.
Matthew Molina, 24, of Alexandria, Va., recently was discharged from the Marines after serving in Iraq. Now he's working to get a job as a police officer or work for a federal agency. He worried a government shutdown would make his job search that much harder.
"After being in the military, you just kind of lose the faith in politics because no matter what you do, getting paid or not paid, you've still got to go to work," he said, standing along the route for the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in the nation's capital. "I've seen teenagers make better decisions out in a war than politicians are doing over here."
Molina and his wife, Kayleigh Prime, kept an eye on news of the budget stalemate all week because Prime's brother is still fighting with an Army unit in Afghanistan and didn't know how he could handle his bills back home if paychecks were delayed.
They joined thousands for the Cherry Blossom parade, which was threatened with cancellation earlier in the week because the parade route crosses partly into federal territory. There were smiles and big cheers for high school marching bands from Alabama, New York and Georgia who made the trip to perform amid talk of canceling the parade and shutting down the city's top attractions.
Even President Barack Obama visited the Lincoln Memorial, shaking hands with tourists after the long night of negotiations.
Tracy Hickey, a school speech therapist from South Bend, Ind., brought her husband and two children to Washington for a long-planned vacation to see the monuments, museums and parade.
"That's why you come here is to see all of these amazing, historic buildings — to not have been able to do that would have been devastating," she said. "They need to get their acts together and get stuff done."
Weeks of political gridlock had people on edge across the country and bracing for the worst. Democrats and Republicans had spent days hashing out the zero-hour deal that was reached late Friday, leaving many wondering how a federal government shutdown would affect them.
Jill Hornick of Crete, Ill., said she was notified Friday morning she would still report to work Monday at her Social Security Administration office in Chicago Heights.
"Utterly ridiculous," the 45-year-old federal worker said of her reaction to news that the shutdown had been averted. "I don't really think they understand how hard it is out there for people, and how important government services are as a safety net."
Rebecca Duncan, the wife of a Navy sailor stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas, started saving money nearly a month ago by cutting trips to restaurants and movies. The 37-year-old mother of three stocked up on food — items that could be frozen in case the family had to do without a paycheck.
Had a shutdown occurred, military service members would have gotten half a paycheck next week and then not been paid until the standoff was settled.
"When I got home and saw it on Facebook, I let out a little cheer. My tension headache went away," Duncan said.
April Woods, the wife of a soldier based at Fort Campbell on the Tennessee-Kentucky line, said she thought her husband's job in the Army would provide better stability during tough economic times. She wasn't so sure after the budget showdown.
"When you hear about everyone getting laid off, your first thought when you are a military person is, 'Oh, I am never going to get laid off. The military is always going to need me.' This has made me feel like maybe they don't. Maybe they don't care."
Unlike the last government shutdown in 1995, this budget deadline came during a peak season for trips to national parks and historic sites.
Andrea Rennig, a den leader for a Cub Scout pack in Center Valley, Pa., said she was with a group of 55 adults and children that had been planning a trip to Philadelphia for months and "were coming no matter what." But she went to bed Friday not knowing if they'd get to see the two biggest stops on their agenda — Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, both overseen by the National Park Service. Rennig woke up early Saturday to good news.
"Everyone was a little nervous that we wouldn't be able to get in to see the Liberty Bell," Rennig said. "I was really relieved."
In South Dakota, the granite faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt gazed out over visitors to Mount Rushmore as usual Saturday. The National Park Service had planned to close the memorial and furlough employees other than a skeleton crew.
In San Francisco, the lines were long Saturday as tourists waited under sunny skies to board cruise ships to Alcatraz Island. Many visitors had no idea the former prison was managed by the National Park Service.
Ben Koerner, of Gilbert, Ariz., was in the city to celebrate his 10th wedding anniversary. He and his wife, Julie, said they would've have been disappointed because they booked their tickets for Alcatraz two months ago.
Politicians called the budget showdown historic, but it wasn't the kind of history 7-year-old Charlie Giambrone of Erie, Pa., was looking for during a visit to the nation's capital. Charlie was glued to the news coverage Friday to find out if he could still visit the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, said Charlie's father, Chuck Giambrone.
On Saturday morning, Charlie posted a Facebook update for people back home. "I helped with the budget so I could come today," he wrote.
Then they took two walks past the flag that inspired the national anthem.
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