WASHINGTON - With the end of the U.S. government's partial shutdown, Washington is breathing easier, but bracing for the possibility of more budget trouble ahead. The nation's capital, where tourism and the federal government are the top two employers, feels more pain than most other U.S. cities when the government shuts down.
Ford's Theatre, where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, is one of Washington's most popular tourist attractions.
As many as 30,000 people visit it each week.
But it remained closed for two weeks during the government shutdown, until a private donation allowed it to reopen, to the relief of Debbi McSpadden.
"We're very happy. Anything we can see in town right now that's open, we're excited about, because there's not much we've been able to see," she said.
Tourism is Washington's number-one employer, according to Mayor Vincent Gray. He says hotel bookings were down by more than eight percent in early October compared to last year, costing the city $2 million in lost revenue.
Restaurants suffered a double blow during the shutdown with both tourists and furloughed employees of the U.S. government, Washington's number-two employer, staying away.
Mayor Gray says the federal government is key to the well-being of the capital.
"Well, there's no question that the federal government continues to play a huge role in the economy of this city," he said.
Washington is unique among American cities. It's a federal district and is not part of any of the 50 U.S. states. Its budget must be approved by its mayor but also by Congress. When Congress fails to act, Washington is in trouble.
When the government shutdown forced the city to stop paying health providers under the federal Medicaid program for low-income patients, Stoddard Baptist Nursing Home worried about how long it could continue to operate.
Its president, Steve Nash, says they anticipated running out of money to pay staff and suppliers.
"If it continued, there was going to be a serious trickle-down effect and really cause disruption to our services," he said. "And so we are thankful that it has subsided, but again, we are very concerned about when we are going to receive our payments."
Nash says he is preparing his staff and vendors for the possibility of another shutdown in three months.
"So we have to plan accordingly and talk to our vendors and make sure they understand, talk to our employees to make sure they understand that there may be delays in the future if this continues," he said.
Nash and Mayor Gray believe the best solution to D.C.'s budget worries would be to make it America's 51st state.
(c) 2012 Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc.
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