Shutdown’s over, but you can set your DVR for the next duel on Capitol Hill

Al Kamen
Columnist October 18, 2013

So the folks on Capitol Hill finally pulled together a deal to end the government shutdown and extend the debt limit, which was the good news.

The glass-half-empty view: Congress could well disrupt your life in just three months or so.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

The deal that put an end to the 16-day shutdown extends funding for the government through Jan. 15 and the debt limit to Feb. 7. Which means that all those congressional staffers, members of the media and others whose lives revolve around Congress should plan to spend the evenings leading up to those dates far from their loved ones — again.

Weddings, anniversaries, birthdays? Forget it, you won’t be there in time for dinner, even if you get a late reservation. Your kid’s school play? Have your spouse film it.

So what other things will Congress ruin this time?

To start, the Caps-Sharks game on Jan. 14 and the Wizards-Heat game on Jan. 15. You might make the Jay-Z show on Jan. 16, though, if all goes smoothly (and why wouldn’t it, right?).

Better plan to DVR the final night of Jay Leno hosting “The Tonight Show” (that’s Feb. 6, and you’ll be working). Like college hoops? Plan to watch the game at your desk, if you can persuade your colleagues to switch the channel from C-SPAN.

The new Souperfund site

The Environmental Protection Agency is still working on those carbon-emissions rules, but it’s already saved its own workers from a potential biohazard: a 16-year-old can of soup, which was discovered in one of the Chicago regional headquarters’ refrigerators during the government shutdown.

EPA workers from the Midwest office on Thursday got a welcome-back e-mail, which included a note from agency chief Gina McCarthy , information about back pay and a few notes about what had gone on during the 16-day partial shuttering of the government. Fortunately, those remaining in the building had thought to clear the office fridges of all those weird Tupperware-like containers and tubs of yogurt that tend to accumulate in any communal kitchen.

From the e-mail: “During the shutdown, we made every effort to water accessible plants. And of necessity, the refrigerators were emptied of all perishable foodstuffs last week. The oldest food found? A can of Campbell’s soup dated 1997! So, please remember it is everyone’s responsibility to keep the refrigerators clean.”

Cuisine du shutdown

If we LoJacked all the furloughed federal workers in town, we’d be able to tell you exactly what they’d been up to during the government shutdown. But that’s not exactly legal (whatever the National Security Agency might tell you), so here’s the next best thing: Foursquare, the social media Web site that lets users share which locations they “check into,” has some answers about shutdown behavior patterns.

The company says its data from Washington over the past two weeks showed more people checked in at pricey restaurants and bars during the shutdown’s first week. “Instead of offices, trains and cafeterias, people were going to fancy bars and Italian restaurants,” the company’s analysis says. “People seemingly treated the furlough as a vacation, spending even more time in expensive restaurants.”

But it wasn’t all fun and games. By the second week, it seemed people were sobering up. Activity overall decreased from normal levels. “People stopped going to coffee shops, food trucks and inexpensive restaurants, and those numbers declined even further into the second week,” the analysis says. “More expensive restaurants, which were popular in the first week of the shutdown, fell below normal levels as the financial implications of the shutdown set in.”

Check-ins at bars were up by half in the first week, although they returned to normal or below the following week.

It’s hard to glean any economic impact from the Foursquare report, since the company doesn’t disclose how many of its 40 million users are in any particular area. But a spokeswoman says that Washingtonians are “heavy users” of the service.

Openings at Fort Meade

As if the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command weren’t already in enough turmoil (perhaps you’ve heard of that Edward Snowden guy?), things are expected to get even more unstable around Snoop Central.

Gen. Keith Alexander , director of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, on Thursday made public his decision to leave the agency in March, a move our colleague Ellen Nakashima reported on earlier this month. Alexander is the longest-serving head of the NSA, having had his tenure extended three times.

But he’s hardly the only one making for the exits at Fort Meade.

His deputies are close behind him: We’re told that deputy NSA director Chris Inglis will retire in mid-January. And Lt. Gen. Jon Davis , deputy commander of Cyber Command, is expected to depart, too, probably in June, after he completes his two-year assignment.

Somebody get out the “Help Wanted” sign.

Welcome to Fed-Mart!

If Denis McDonough weren’t so essential, he could have gotten a job as a Wal-Mart greeter.

The White House chief of staff was spotted Thursday morning (sans the red vest) welcoming staffers as they showed up to work after Wednesday night’s conclusion of the partial government shutdown. Standing inside the gate of the entrance off Pennsylvania Avenue, he shook hands with folks returning from their furloughs.

Class act. But no homemade muffins?

Looks like part of a welcome-back-to-work campaign by the White House: Vice President Biden was gladhanding federal workers outside the Federal Triangle Metro station on Thursday morning (and he brought baked goods).

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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