D.C. was prepared for the worst
By Ed O'Keefe, Carol Morello and Michael E. Ruane,
Barricades were ready for the memorials on the Mall. Drastic contingency plans were in place nationwide. Metro had even prepared for the morning commute that a shutdown might bring on Monday.
But as Washington and the rest of the country braced for the looming shutdown of the federal government Saturday, congressional leaders announced an agreement late Friday that made all the preparations moot.
The deal, after days of mounting pressure and political bickering, means a Saturday morning in Washington without the metal barriers blocking access to the country’s grand national monuments.
The developments Friday came at the end of yet another day of maddening uncertainty in Washington, as residents, workers and visitors braved rainy spring weather and wondered what Saturday would bring.
But as the day waned, hints emerged that a deal was close.
Crystal Thomas of Bowie, a financial analyst who works as a federal contractor for Computer Sciences Corp., heard about it while working out at Gold’s Gym in Bowie.
“I’ve definitely cheered up,” she said. “It means that there’s a good possibility I’ll get a paycheck.”
Thomas said she is still recovering financially from taking family leave last year.
She said she had been going over her finances in recent weeks figuring out how she’d deal with a cut in pay.
Danny Underwood, who works for the Department of Homeland Security, said he worried that he would have needed another job during the shutdown to manage his expenses.
“It brings relief,” Underwood said, adding he couldn’t afford to be out of work for more than two weeks.
Younger federal employees and contractors seemed jubilant.
In Arlington, a group of friends and neighbors spent the evening Friday watching news reports on the big-screen TV in Bryan Roettger’s apartment and planning what they might do on their furloughs.
But when news broke shortly before 11 p.m. that Republican and Democratic negotiators had shaken on the deal, a collective cheer went up.
“Everybody was excited,” said Roettger, 30, a data analyst at the Department of Veterans Affairs. “I’m happy. It looks like they’re going to get everything figured out.”
Delores Fields, a social worker with the Attorney General’s office, said the last few days have been stressful as she and co-workers shared their concerns about how they would pay their mortgages and other bills.
All the talk about who was essential and who wasn’t essential weighed on people’s minds, making it hard to focus on their work, she said.
As the weekend approached, she was angry.
“Who wants to start a nice, cherry blossom weekend wondering what do we do — do we go to work on Monday?” she said.
When news of the possibility of a breakthrough came, Fields said it wasn’t going to be to switch off her anger at the politicians who she felt toyed with her livelihood and well-being.
“I’ve still got a little bitter taste in my mouth.”
And David Byrd, a 22-year veteran of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, compared this week’s impasse to the drama of asking a girl to the high school prom who also gets asked by another guy.
“You don’t know whether to rent the tuxedo or not” until she makes up her mind, he joked. Now, “I can go ahead and rent the tuxedo.”
Federal workers across the country shared similar sentiments.
At California’s Mojave National Preserve, Danette Woo handles the distribution of permits for public events, but had put most of her duties aside to prepare to close.
“It’s frustrating not to be able to get our work done,” she said, adding that now she fears the potential of a “post-crisis period.”
“I won’t be able to just come in on Monday or Tuesday morning and hit the ground running,” she said.
The District of Columbia, which depends on Congress for funding, got battered in the budget deal.
Sources said it includes a provision banning the District from spending its own funds to provide abortions to low-income women At the same time,l it provides funds for a controversial school voucher program.
The inclusion of the abortion policy “rider” is a victory for Republicans, and the voucher program is opposed by Mayor Vincent Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
Norton wrote President Obama last month expressing her fear that the District rider would be used as “a bargaining chip.”
On Friday night, before the details of the final deal became clear, Norton said, “We are in great danger of becoming bargained as we feared.”
There is also likely to be lingering anger elsewhere in the wake of the deal.
“I’m absolutely disgusted,” Jeanine Kenworthy, 77, of Kerville, Texas, said of the impasse situation as she snacked at the National Museum of American History on Friday afternoon. “Furious.”
Around midday Friday, hundreds of angry State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development employees spent their lunch hour protesting the prospect of a shutdown.
Veteran diplomats and analysts — many of whom remembered working through previous shutdowns while stationed abroad — poured out of government buildings in Foggy Bottom and gathered in a nearby park.
“Why must we, who work around the Hill, suffer the adverse consequences of those who work on top of the Hill?” said Tim Bishop, a representative with the American Federation of Government Employees.
Margaret Pride, a Bureau of Consular Affairs employee, said that during the last shutdown in the mid-1990s, she was stationed overseas and ended up escorting a visiting congressional delegation.
She said she thought they should have been back in Washington passing a budget.
“I still have scars from my tongue from where I was biting it,” she said. “We were diplomatic about it.”
In Denver, David Larkin answers taxpayer phone calls at an IRS call center there, and said he was going to be at his desk next week no matter what. “Everything went pretty much like I thought,” he said Friday as the midnight deadline neared. “I thought they would take it down to the wire.”
Staff writers Hamil R. Harris, Larissa Roso, Nikita Stewart, Ovetta Wiggins, Brigid Schulte, Ben Pershing and Paul Kane contributed to this report.