No shutdown brings saved plans and exasperation on the day after compromise

April 9, 2011

The streets and parks of the Washington area echoed Saturday to the usual sounds of a frenetic weekend in spring.

Outside the White House, protesters chanted, preachers preached and young men played street hockey on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Along Constitution Avenue, the noisy pageant of the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade came off, as it does every year. And at Glen Echo Park, Kristin Mar and Kam Hassan were married, as planned, in the pavilion they reserved last year.

No trace could be seen of the federal government shutdown that didn’t happen. Nor were there signs of the tortured hours leading up to Friday’s compromise that averted the closing with a 2011 budget agreement.

But on a day of gray overcast and marching bands, and with federal employees scheduled to work Monday as usual, there was a mix of salvaged plans and blunt views about the way events played out.

“I knew they weren’t going to shut down,” said Elly Baginski, 71, of Bayonne, N.J., as she sat eating a sandwich on 15th Street NW, south of the Treasury Building. The they: Washington politicians.

“It’s a ploy,” she said of last week’s dramatic budget impasse. “That’s exactly what it is. . . . Every few years, they try to pull it. They want to get the people excited.”

Her son, Fred, 41, of West Deptford, N.J., said he was glad the shutdown didn’t happen. “We were coming down here today, and I was told that if it did happen, the Smithsonian wouldn’t be open, other things wouldn’t be open, the cherry tree blossom place would be mobbed because people would have nowhere else to go,” he said.

“I think politics . . .” he said.

“Stinks,” his mother said.

On Pennsylvania Avenue, near the White House, Sherry Umpleby, 42, who was visiting from Cleveland, said of the political drama: “I just think, ‘Why can’t we find a way to make this work. It’s ridiculous. Make it work. Everybody else can find a way to get through it. I’m running my household.”

Her friend, Kelly Selep, 50, who had just moved to Northern Virginia from Cleveland, said: “It’s messed up. The fact that they waited [so close to the midnight deadline]. Come on. . . . Was that just to sensationalize the whole thing or make people panic?”

But elsewhere Saturday, the political compromise brought relief.

Stephen Popick, who works for the Department of Justice and lives in an Alexandria neighborhood full of federal workers, said he was happy the uncertainty was over, at least in the short term.

“Everyone in my neighborhood is just glad they’ll be able to go to work on Monday,” he said. “There are still a lot of issues they have to resolve, so we may be here again. Who knows?”

In Glen Echo Park, Mar and Hassan were happily wed in the wooden bumper car pavilion they had reserved last September. The bride wore a strapless, knee-length dress; her groom, a bow tie and black leather Jack Purcell tennis shoes. They had been told Friday that because the site is owned by the National Park Service, a shutdown would make it off-limits.

But with friends and relatives arriving from across the country, the couple tried to be calm, and they were rewarded late Friday with the budget agreement.

“Everything turned out,” said Hassan, who played guitar and sang his vows to Mar.

Said Mar: “I’m really, really happy. . . . It’s who we are.”

Along the route of the cherry blossom parade, participants were just happy the show went on.

Last week, federal officials said a federal shutdown would force the parade’s cancellation, because part of the route used federal land. Parade organizers vowed to use an alternate route. Friday’s compromise put the parade back on it’s original plan.

“This means the world to us,” said Anna Atchison, 16, who was marching as one of the Dogwood Trail princesses, from the Mobile, Ala., area. The group includes young women who have won college scholarships and prizes for poise and composure.

The highlight of their year-long reign is donning their brilliant aqua, lavender, pink and blue hoop skirts with 250 yards of ribbon and marching ahead of the massive cherry blossom balloons in the parade’s grand finale.

“We worked so hard that we figured we’d just walk around the streets of D.C. in our dresses if they canceled the parade,” said Emily Harper, 16, who was wearing a yellow dress.

“But we were optimistic,” interjected Colleen Anusiewicz, 17, who was in lavender. “We’re supposed to be optimistic.”

Kelly Chin, who led groups of children from Maryland and Wisconsin in Okinawa-style dancing and drumming in the parade, said she hung on every scrap of news about the threatened shutdown.

“We kept practicing,” she said. “We kept hoping.”

As a contingency, she said, she reserved a Washington hotel conference room for her group to perform in if a shutdown killed the parade.

“But now we don’t have to do that,” she said after the parade, her face painted entirely in white. “We are just so happy. We feel like one of the parade balloons up in the sky.”

Carolyn and Lorenzo McCrea beamed as their son, playing the quad drums, marched by with the Hardy Middle School Band.

“So many people worked so hard and came from all over the world for this,” Carolyn McCrea said. The Hardy students had been practicing at 7:30 every morning for months. “It would have been a travesty to have shut this down.”

Samantha Utt, 22, attended the parade from Fort Campbell, Ky., where her husband, a serviceman, is stationed.

“I was worried about whether we would get a paycheck,” she said of the shutdown threat. “So the worries about the parade fell by the wayside. I figured we’d just find something else to do.”

For other federal employees, the budget battle may not be over.

Though a proposal to cut $1.3 billion in federal pay and bonuses was scrapped from Friday’s 2011 compromise, Republican lawmakers are expected to target federal pay again as negotiations begin on next year’s budget.

schulteb@washpost.com

Staff writer Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

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