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."
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